Thor has quite quickly become one of my favourite MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) characters.
Let’s be honest: despite some dope fight scenes early on, Thor was a pretty stale character. I’m not surprised Chris Hemsworth fought to rejuvenate him before Thor Ragnarok.
Some are criticizing the direction of Thor’s character in Avengers: Endgame, but the more I reflect on it (and see it… I’ve seen it twice and am expecting to go a third time before it closes in theatres), the more I think it’s not only enjoyable, but almost archetypal.
First, set the stage. You just lost your dad, who left you the kingdom of Asgard. Then you lost them, or at least ¾ of them, to Thanos, who also choked your brother to death before your eyes and killed one of your oldest friends.
In a streak of revenge, you build the weapon you need to kill Thanos and take your shot. It works—you have him near dead in your arms. But your zeal blinds you, and as you enjoy your would-be victory, you allow the Mad Titan to wipe out half the Universe. All that build-up only to fall.
Let that sink in. Have you ever felt disappointment? Have you ever felt what it’s like to really disappoint someone? What if you disappointed the entire Universe?
We’ve all experienced defeat, and it’s a real psychological phenomenon. It messes with you, and it can be hard to pick yourself back up. The fear of failing again creates legitimate inhibitions. The bigger the fall, the deeper the dive… and the tougher the climb back to the top, or even somewhere in the middle.
And so the “Strongest Avenger” is understandably not in a good space at the beginning of Endgame. How could he be?
“But why make him fat?!?!” some cry (especially some disappointed ladies). Well, other than some comic relief, the resort to beer and Fortnite also makes perfect sense. If you’ve failed at life, you understandably question the significance of trying again. Why bother, if I failed at the quest I was supposed to complete? If all hope is lost anyways?
Enter some of my favourite scenes in the movie: Thor meets his mother in the past.
Beautifully, the grace-laden Queen of Asgard reminds Thor of part of his problem: “We always fail at who we’re supposed to be”. Thor thought he was supposed to be the Universe’s saviour and hero, King of Asgard and Protector of the Nine Realms like his father once was. But destiny took a disappointing turn, and there’s no turning back from his falling short.
That feeling sucks. Not only did you fail—there’s no redemption. No undoing what was done. Yet Lady Odin smiles warmer than ever and lifts her son back up.
As a Christian I’m watching this moment and soaking it up. This is grace. This is the gospel! We’re never who we’re “supposed” to be. We’re never who we even want to be, at least not morally. Perfection is unattainable, failure inevitable, one way or another.
Jesus reminds us: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, emphasis mine).
Jesus calls us to a life which is filled with burden, but he calls us to himself. Not to some crushing “supposed to be” standard. To trust and find security in a sovereign God and Father. His arms are wide open, and he turns us from our concerns of identity that overwhelm and control us. Indeed, we always fail at who we’re supposed to be. When we worship that “supposed to”, we will end up despising it and despising ourselves. Only turning to the unchanging and ever-purposeful God will we find freedom from the “supposed to be” idol.
Thor has this moment, though he obviously doesn’t come to Jesus. He ends up “without a path for the first time in a thousand years,” in his own words. We don’t always know what’s next, but Christians always have a path, in a sense: to worship God and, whatever we do, do it to his glory.
This isn’t to say we don’t aspire to great things. It doesn’t mean we don’t try. It definitely doesn’t mean we resort to beer and Fortnite before we even embark on the quest. But it does mean we don’t define ourselves by merely what we do or accomplish. We do our best, repent when we sin and get back up when we fall. And the fall is much less devastating when we don’t have this mirage “supposed to” pedestal we try and put ourselves on or worship at.
Thor’s journey will likely be yours one day. You will fail at who you’re supposed to be, perhaps in a big way. You might never be the same. But God never changes, and accepts you no less. Rest in him, and while you’re at it, just be you. Don’t bother with “supposed to”.