I have just come back from seeing “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” (a movie based on Marvel comics characters), written and directed by Joss Whedon. At the end of the movie (as all Marvel movies), there’s a little clip at the end — after the credits — which sets up some other movie or some background drama. At the end of this one (spoiler alert!) there’s a blue man who puts on a glove and says, “Fine, I’ll have to do it myself”.
My wife went to see the movie earlier in the day, and she texted me “What’s the infinity gauntlet and who’s the blue guy”, to which I replied “I’m not exactly sure”. Now, having seen the movie, I can tell you that the answer to those questions, lies in a pretty little-known movie callled “Guardians of the Galaxy”, which is, in some ways, a satire of comic books and comic book movies.
Holding all of this together is writer and director Joss Whedon, who came up with the original concept of, wrote the original movie script for, and eight TV seasons of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. If all of this seems silly, watch a few episodes of “Buffy” and you’ll see how brilliant a writer Whedon is. Using mythical backgrounds — vampires, werewolves and the like — he tells incredibly human stories about the effects of violence on people, rape, life and death, as well as romance, music, and so on.
The thing that I have always admired about Joss’ work is that he creates these incredibly complex, incredibly long story “arcs”. Apparently the Buffy staff of writers would create a whole long story — often an entire season — and this story arc would play in the background, as subplot to each of the episodes (each with their own story) and they would become clearer as the season progressed, culminating with some final “so that’s where that was leading to” “aha” moment.
It occurred to me after the short clip at the end of the movie, that God is sort of like that — creating a story and a timeline, with what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the arc of the moral universe” that “is long, but it bends toward justice”..
While the comic book world sees “justice” as some kind of superhero thing that looks like vengeance against costumed bad guys, God goes for a more mysterious, more complex justice, unraveling this storyline using a holy story and weaving in satire, humor, drama, bringing in “extras” as well as “stars”, and hiding the underpinnings of history — “God’s plan for the world” — in little places where we might not think to look. God writes the story, and directs it with human actors, and every once in awhile, when God can’t find the perfect person for a part, does a cameo to further the story.
In this latest Avengers movie, Captain America says something that struck me as odd. As our heroes come to fight the Bad Guy and his minions, Cap says, “we came here to fight. These civilians didn’t. Get them out of there”, which quietly corrects an earlier, unjust moral conflict that led to evil happening. He says it like it’s obvious, and maybe it is, for Cap. Later, as a city prepares to fall from the sky, he says he won’t go until every single resident of the town caught up in this situation is safe, and every one — every single one — of the robots created by The Bad Guy is destroyed.
I don’t know where Whedon came up with the line, but it, too, is like the way God operates. The song, “His eye is on the sparrow”, is based on a quote by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father”. In short, even those things that are considered of very little value to humans, God notices and attempts to protect. We are caught in this battle between the Ultimate Good and the Ultimate Evil, and God wants us out of the way so that the The Big Boys can fight. When it seems like the world is falling apart at the seams, God goes back for every single one of us because we are important to the story that God is trying to tell, that God has written at the beginning of time, and has really long story arcs that lead us to justice and — in the process — overcoming every single one of those who are led by Evil.
It is not just the immediate episode that we see in our daily news that is important. It is that little nugget of wisdom that completes the picture. It is the odd one out, the child who was saved as an extra in what we think of as our movie, that changes history. It is the millions of experiences people that people have that lead up to a Martin Luther King and progress in justice. We may bring our own unique vision to the character (and further God encourages us to), but God is telling the story and directing the action.
As incredible a storyteller as Joss Whedon is (and he is amazingly good at all the parts of telling a story), God is a better screenwriter, producer, director, who sometimes does a walk-on part to get the story just right. May we see our parts and play them. Regardless of how up the task we think we are, God knows what God is doing.