Captain America: Civil War and the Book of Romans

Now that a few weeks have passed, and I have had the opportunity to see Captain America: Civil War twice, there are some thoughts that I believe are present.

A number of bloggers and other critics have noted that neither Steve Rogers/Captain America nor Tony Stark/Iron Man are 100% correct in their views. Neither individuals nor institutions can be trusted to provide competent, reliable oversight for people with power.

Personal responsibility:
I find it interesting that in discussing the Sokovia Accords, which would limit the Avengers to act only when they had clearance from a UN panel, Steve Rogers claims to accept that in order to act he must be willing to live with the consequences. In other words, he sys he is willing to take responsibility for the results, good and bad, of his actions.  

Speaking to Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, he says "This job... we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn't mean everybody. But if we can't find a way to live with that, next time... maybe nobody gets saved."  Later, as the Avengers debate whether to sign the Accords, he has the following exchange with Tony Stark/Iron Man:

Steve Rogers: Tony, if someone dies on your watch, you don't give up. 
Tony Stark: Who said we're giving up? 
Steve Rogers: We are if we're not taking responsibility for our actions. This document just shifts the blame.

These statements are inspiring, and even convincing in their call to take responsibility.

But then, when he and his best friend Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier share a private moment, Steve's tune seems to change. Only Bucky appears to accept the implications of his actions:

Bucky Barnes: I don't know if I'm worth all this to you. 
Captain America: What you did all those years, it wasn't you. You didn't have a choice. 
Bucky Barnes: I know... but I did it.

"I did it." The simple, quiet way that Sebastian Stan (the actor playing Bucky) delivers the line is heartbreaking in its resignation. It does not matter the why he did those things. He openly acknowledges that it was by his hand that people died.   Too many people try to minimize or negate their responsibility. Many years ago comedian Flip Wilson had a catchphrase that to this day people still use: "The Devil made me do it." Bucky rejects that excuse, admitting that although his mind was not his own, he nonetheless owns up to the fact that he still bears the responsibility.

Another exchange, this time between Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch and the Vision also seems to resonate with Paul's message in his letter to the Romans:

Wanda Maximoff: [laugh] ... I used to think of myself one way. But after this... [swirling fingers with magic]...I am something else. And still me, I think. But that's not what everyone else sees. 
Vision: Do you know, I don't know what this is [point at mind gem on his forehead]. Not really. I know it's not of this world. But it powered Loki staff, gave you your abilities. But its true nature is a mystery. And yet, it is part of me. 
Wanda Maximoff: Are you afraid of it? 
Vision: I wish to understand it. The more I do the less it controls me. One day, who knows, I may even control it.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  (15)  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  (16)  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  (17)  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  (18)  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  (19)  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  (20)  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  (21)  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  (22)  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  (23)  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  (24)  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:14-24 ESV)

Where Wanda and Vision differ, of course, is their desire to fully understand and eventually control the parts of themselves that make them different and potentially dangerous. Paul, on the other hand, realizes that not only can he not control his inward nature, he will never fully understand it. He laments this failure in that 24th verse: "who will rescue me?"

Bucky seems to realize this as well, and gets that he is not in control. His solution? To lock himself away from anyone who could exploit him and his abilities.

Steve Rogers: Are you sure about this? 
Bucky Barnes: [going into cryogenic stasis] I can't trust my own mind. 

T'Challa: Your friend and my father, they were both victims. If I can help one of them find peace...

If we had read on into the very next sentence in Paul's letter to the Romans, which leads into Chapter 8, we read Paul's solution lies outside of himself and his ability to understand and mastery: only by being surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ can one hope to escape. He does not have to submit to cryogenic stasis to be freed; freedom comes from the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of Jesus.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  (8:1)  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (2)  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 7:25-8:2 ESV)

The Avengers have never been the tightest-knit group. In fact, when they first meet (in the first Avengers film), Captain America and Iron Man take different approaches to apprehending Loki, and then when they all get together, the squabble so much that it is impossible that they could every work together, unless, of course, they get a little push in the right direction. This push comes from the death of a beloved agent, a good man, who gave his life to try to stop Loki.  In the second Avengers film, again Iron Man and Captain America have different approaches to protecting the world, and each is too stubborn to compromise until it is almost too late.

The villain, Helmut Zemo, recognizes this weakness and does all he can to exploit it.  His reasoning follows thusly:

Zemo: An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one which crumbles from within? That's dead... forever.

This is an echo of what Jesus said  to people who claimed He was possessed by Satan:

Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. (Matthew 12:25 ESV)

This quote has appeared many times in our history, including speeches by Abraham Lincoln on his determination to preserve the Union during the American Civil War.  Even now, 150 years later, we are still dealing with the mistakes of this great national tragedy.  The phrase "United we stand, divided we fall" even forms one of the taglines for the film we are discussing.

I think its important to note here that unity in this case does not necessarily mean uniformity of presentation or thought; it means that we have a common purpose and we work together to accomplish a common vision.  Much like the Avengers, the Church is a collection of people who have gifts, talents and abilities to be used for a common purpose. None of us look alike, and we certainly all don't think alike, but when we put these gifts and talents to use, working together, amazing things happen.  Too often, though, the Church descends into petty squabbles based on our differences, and we end up with our own Civil War, in miniature. The problem, though is that our Civil War potentially has eternal consequences.

Vengeance & Justice:
Zemo is nursing an overwhelming loss. During the Battle of Sokovia (as presented in Avengers: Age of Ultron), his family was killed, and he blames the Avengers. In this bit of dialogue with T'Challa/Black Panther, he shares his pain with someone who he believes understands his thirst for vengeance:

T'Challa: Is this all you wanted? To see them rip each other apart? 
Zemo: My father lived outside the city, and I thought we would be safe there. My son was excited. He could see the Iron Man from the car window. I told my wife, "Don't worry. They're fighting in the city. We're miles from harm." And the dust cleared, and the screaming stopped. It took me two days until I found their bodies. My father still holding my wife and son in his arms... And the Avengers? They went home. I knew I couldn't kill them. More powerful men than me have tried. But if I could get them to kill each other... I'm sorry about your father. He seemed a good man, with a dutiful son. 
T'Challa: Vengeance has consumed you. It's consuming them. I'm done letting it consume me. Justice will come soon enough. 
Zemo: Tell that to the dead. 
[points gun to head, T'Challa stops him] 
T'Challa: The living are not done with you yet.

Vengeance is a fire that consumes everything. In this case, it has consumed Zemo and his actions in search of retribution have led to many others dying and/or being hurt in the process. Those seeking to avenge themselves often are careless with regard to the collateral damage they cause. They only want to hurt the object of their vengeance, and if anyone else gets in the way, too bad.

The problem is that vengeance often breed more vengeance. You hurt me, I get back at you, which drives you to get back at me, and so on and so on, ad nauseum.   Again, Paul discusses this in his letter to the Romans:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  (20)  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  (21)  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

One might object that Paul was not thinking about the loss of family and the pain that would cause someone which then might lead them to seek vengeance. But I believe that Paul believed precisely this to be the case. He was writing to Christians in Rome, who were being persecuted for their faith. Family members and loved ones could well have been killed as part of this. Only T'Challa gets that vengeance is something that we do for ourselves, and rather than making us feel better, it only consumes us more. He rejects the notion of vengeance for something else: justice. Justice is the equitable assignment of responsibility and penalty for wrongdoing. T'Challa understands that Zemo, in his careless pursuit of vengeance must account to the survivors and those he has hurt. The living require an accounting of Zemo for the pain he has caused.

If vengeance is such a bad thing, then why does the Scripture teach that God will execute "vengeance?" Only God is unbiased and righteous enough to execute vengeance on our behalf without it consuming Him; this is true Justice.  Those who seek reckless vengeance must answer to those who are left in their wake.

Many would scoff at superhero movies in general and Marvel superhero movies specifically as eye-candy and fluff. But to my eye, there is much in this film to ponder over and to consider in light of personal responsibility, unity, and vengeance and justice.

Popular posts from this blog

If I may be allowed to get serious for a moment…

Max Headroom: Thirty-Year Celebration Reblog - Future Tense

My Marvel Movies Ranked