The latest Avengers movie, Avengers: Endgame, is a popular topic of conversation around the watercooler, with people discussing how well a diverse group of superheros worked together as a team. We at Family Fire noted how the film highlighted their common ground of being connected in relationships, especially the relationships of parent and child that is so formative in our lives. Our families shape our lives and usually we celebrate the gift that God has given to us in our families.
God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land (Psalm 68:6).
Our families are blessings, but they are not exempt from the brokenness of this world; sometimes they disappoint us. Endgame offered a variety of parenting approaches. The movie showed relationships aligned at times with a healthy perspective on parenting while others failed to live up to God’s desire for these essential relationships. Some essential truths about parenting can be gleaned from the film. Please note that there are spoilers ahead if you have not yet had a chance to see the movie.
Endgame recognized the blessing of being parents and having children. Hawkeye, for example, set aside the role of superhero to focus his life on his family. He delighted in mentoring his children. He valued his role as parent and felt lost when that role was absent from his life. His glimpse of being reunited with his family inspires him to step into a risky mission for the chance to restore the blessing of family back to his life. Scripture tells us that children are a blessing from God for us to enjoy in this life.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. (Psalm 127:3).
Children are a blessing, but that should not make them the center of our life. In Endgame, Tony Stark doesn't want to change his present where he enjoys the blessing of being a parent. He wants to preserve being a father and husband and has to be convinced that he can save the world and save his family. He feels the pull of his role as parent above the responsibility he feels to care for the rest of humanity.
Hollywood has often portrayed romantic relationships as the pinnacle of human existence--find romance and you will live happily ever after is their all too frequent theme. But more and more there is a shift to romanticizing the parent/child relationship. Avengers: Endgame focuses on the parent-child relationship in a way that at times idolizes and romanticizes parenting.
Among the avengers, there are no challenging or tedious moments of raising children. Parenting is romanticized into endearing bedtime rituals and pleasant family picnics. Parents pass along their skills to eager to learn children who are transforming into younger versions of their parents. These postcard moments are sweet memories, but not the day to day experience in this broken world.
Our love for our children can inspire us to strive to be the best versions of ourselves but they don’t define our existence. As Christians we believe that child are a gift from God, but we also recognize that parenting is challenging and it is not the pinnacle of human existence. Raising Pinterest-perfect children can become an idolatrous focus within our culture. Helicopter parents spend their lives hovering over their children’s lives and hyper focused on attending their children’s every need. Rather, God should be where we first focus our attention and find our identity. Life is not incomplete if we do not have children or stay single. Scripture teaches us that it is not our children who give us meaning and purpose in the world. God and his kingdom should be the factors that motivate us.
Endgame was notable for its theme of parents and children shaping one another for good or ill. Parents are formative to who we become as adults and how well we live into the callings that God has placed on our lives. The film shows us that parents shape children, and also that children shape their parents. The poor parenting that Thanos gives to his adopted daughters has a detrimental impact on them as children that carries into adulthood. In contrast, parents who provided a faithful legacy are held in high esteem. Thor and Tony are grateful for the opportunity to connect once again with their long-lost parents who had been their guides. Parents are influential to their children’s formation.
Children are not the only ones who are being transformed through the parenting relationship. Parents are also learning and growing through their role as parents. We see the world differently when we become parents and experience life through the eyes of our children. Guiding a child shapes the adults as well. For Tony Stark, parenting became a stabilizing force in his life that shaped his character and removed some rough edges. Parenting anchors him and quiets his selfish tendencies. The parenting role is impactful even to those without children of their own. Captain America grows as a character into his role as parenting his fellow avengers. His legacy continues as he passes the mantle of responsibility to the next generation. There is a delight in seeing him pass his role to the next generation. Parenting is formative process for everyone involved.
Children (even adult children) have a desire to please their parents. Thor does not want his mom to see that he is having struggles coping with life in the future. Nebula is still trying to please Thanos even after he treats her horribly. It is natural to seek affirmation from the people who know us best. We seek unconditional love from our broken human relationships yet it can only really be found from a relationship with our unfailing God. Parents will inevitably fail to affirm their children in the ways that their children would like. It is part of living as flawed people in a broken world.
Spiderman was once inspired with his uncle's phrase, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As parents we are in a position of authority with power to guide our children in a positive direction. Our parenting should not be self-indulgent. As leaders of our families, God has called us to servant leadership.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
Thanos fails in his responsibility to raise his daughters without provoking them to anger. Thanos is not interested in the good of his daughters and provokes them to anger on a regular basis. Nebula's desire to please her father and Gamora's favorite status causes friction between the two sisters. Thanos raises these girls as his daughters to do his bidding and be warriors--what else would a power seeking tyrant do? In the end, his daughters are only pawns in his selfish quest for power. In contrast, Tony Stark is motivated by his fatherly relationship to Peter Parker to take the risk of going back in time to try to set things right. Caring for Peter becomes a responsibility that Tony Stark is willing to embrace and take risks to save. We too are called to follow the example of Jesus and live sacrificially for others. The role of parent comes with a responsibility to connect our children to know the love of their Heavenly Father and guide them to follow that calling in their lives.
Family relationships echo with the brokenness of this world. The unprocessed grief of our relationships can bring us into unhealthy places. Hawkeye was unable to cope with the loss of his family and it brought him to a hopeless set of circumstances. His existence seemed meaningless without his children and his life deteriorated into destruction. Thanos’ bad parenting led his daughters into anger and revenge. We grieve the brokenness of this world and the way relationships are torn apart by sinfulness and death. Our grief needs expression or it gets internalized and released in unhealthy ways. We serve a God whose love for us is unfailing and we can never separated from it (Romans 8:38-39). Our God is attentive to every tear that falls and he longs to comfort us.
We thrive as human beings within the context of a supportive environment. Family dynamics are spotlighted late in the film following an emotional funeral. The camera pans from one group of families to another showing us the grieving family units. We see the pain that each family has over their loss. We see how tightly they hold onto each other and support one another in their grief. These familial bonds extend beyond just biological families giving us a glimpse of the church as God’s family. It is not biology that makes us family, but our ties to one another.
“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:50
Fellowship is intrinsic to our design as image bearers of God. The fellowship of the trinity is built into our identity, showing us that we need one another.
We human beings are made for community and we are all seeking love and belonging. God created us in community to give and receive love--we were not meant for isolation. Even the evil Thanos desires love. He adopts daughters that he wants to show him unquestioning loyalty. But love is not something that we can demand from others--it just doesn’t work like that. Relationships are a blessing to everyone when God’s sacrificial love flows freely through them.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Black Widow chose a path of self-sacrifice in her parenting of the Avengers. She opted to lay down her life for the good of others. And it is in following God’s example of sacrificial love that we come to better understand the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Jesus set an example of love that he calls us to follow. When Jesus summarized the law when he said we needed to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:36-40).
The Avengers team themselves can be seen as a picture of the gathered church on the mission of God. They are a diverse group, knit together as family sharing in the common work of cultivating a flourishing kingdom. That kingdom includes people from every tribe, tongue, and nation coming together to enact justice through the practice of sacrificial love.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster