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Thor: Love and Theodicy

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Though Marvel has yet to explore how religion in our real world would operate in their fictional cinematic universe, the themes explored in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) can raise questions for viewers about God and faith.

The latest MCU film, Thor: Love and Thunder, brings the problem of evil to the forefront. This philosophical quandary is often expressed in its most basic form as the following: If God is good and all-powerful, then evil should not exist. If evil exists, then either God is not good or not all-powerful, or He doesn’t exist at all.

This philosophical problem attempts to force people to choose between the existence of evil, which is observable around them, and the existence of God, who is not often so obvious. But what do you do in a world where you’ve experience great evil and you come face-to-face with the god you worship?

The latest Thor movie seeks to answer that question with its own versions of a theodicy, the philosophical attempt to defend God’s goodness in the face of evil. Thor: Love and Thunder offers two variations of this response to the problem of evil, one that is consistent with the MCU and one that is consistent with Scripture.

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Gods and the MCU

Marvel has a complicated relationship with deities. In early MCU films, Norse mythological gods were introduced, but Odin, Thor, Loki and the rest were described less as divine and more as beings from another realm with science so advanced it appeared as magic to humans. Captain America famously dismissed Thor and Loki’s status as deities when Black Widow warned him about getting involved in their fight because the two were “basically gods.” He replied, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure He doesn’t dress like that.”

In recent years, however, Marvel has begun adding to their pantheon and including more supernatural people with their superheroes. Still, they remain hesitant to invoke religious figures worshipped by current movie viewers. Ms. Marvel, the latest MCU series on Disney+, depicts an observant Muslim family involved in the local mosque, but we never see how their Islamic faith interacts with the god of thunder walking the streets of New York City. In Thor: Love and Thunder, the heroes travel to Omnipotent City, a gathering place of the gods in the MCU. Viewers can spot a dumpling god and numerous other mythological and fictional deities, but no Yahweh, Jesus, Brahma, or Allah. Still the film raises questions for people of faith.

The movie opens with Gorr and his daughter, emaciated and stumbling across a dry, barren planet. With a parched throat and cracked skin, Gorr still bows and prays to his god Rapu for relief and salvation. Only after his daughter dies does Gorr spot an oasis filled with fruit and water. There he comes face-to-face with Rapu and other divine beings, only for them to dismiss Gorr, his concerns, and the loss of his daughter. Gorr explains how all Rapu’s followers have died, while the god feasted and partied. Unmoved, the god demands Gorr go find him more worshippers. Instead, faced with his own problem of evil, Gorr wields a cursed sword, cuts off Rapu’s head, and takes on the mantle Gorr the God Butcher.

Thor learns that salvation requires sacrifice.

Theodicy on the Screen and in Scripture

Obviously, with Thor being a god, a quest to murder gods concerns him and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only do we want to see Thor live, but we also want to defend him, so the film offers its own theodicies. There are numerous philosophical responses to the problem of evil, but the Bible directly speaks to the issue in two primary ways: God is God, and God became man. Thor seems to be a critique of the first option, but it actually offers its own corrupted version.

What is the “God is God” response to suffering? When humans face evil and turn to God for answers in the Bible, they are sometimes reminded of their place compared to God’s. Job endures suffering and questions God only to have God turn the table and question Job. God is God, and Job is not.

On the surface, Thor: Love and Thunder may seem to rebuke this response. Most of the gods we see in Thor are self-absorbed and offer no response to those in agony beneath them. Some, like Rapu, only want to experience all the pleasures of their divine existence and so they’ve given no thought to the lives of those beneath them. Others may recognize the difficulties and troubles of their followers, but their concern for their own safety and comfort overwhelms any desire to help. But in this, we do not see “God is God,” instead we see “God is man.” The gods in Thor are simply more powerful humans. They may have abilities beyond our imagination, but they have the same moral weaknesses.

Still, Thor: Love and Thunder does offer hints at the other response the Bible offers to the problem of evil and sin: “God became man.” Over four standalone MCU films and other appearances, the character arc for Thor has been to prove his worthiness amid pain and loss. In the original Thor film, we see an arrogant warrior who needed to be humbled and learn to love others. Now in the latest Thor film, we see a god ready to lay down his life for all that he loves. In the end, before Eternity (literally), Thor learns that salvation requires sacrifice.

Just as the mythological gods serve as shadows that find their fullness in the true God, as J.R.R. Tolkien demonstrated to C.S. Lewis, so too do the MCU’s representations of the mythological gods point beyond themselves to the “True Myth.” Thor’s journey leads us to hope that love conquers death and paradise awaits those who walk the narrow way. Jesus’ life and death give a foundation to that hope.

This is the Christian’s response to the problem of evil on a personal level. It may not address all the philosophical questions, but it does address the existential one: Where is God when I’m suffering? In the person of Jesus, we see that God is right there in the midst of our pain with us. God became man. He doesn’t have the same moral failings we do. He didn’t have to prove His worthiness. He has always been worthy, but he did “prove His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). On the cross, Jesus suffered, enduring the full punishment of evil on our behalf. He died to bring us life. That is a God worthy of our worship.

Gorr the God Butcher says, “All gods must die,” to which the Christian responds, “Yes, He already did.”

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Aaron Earls

Aaron Earls is senior writer/editor of LifewayResearch.com and a freelance writer living outside Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and four kids. He earned his M.Div. in Apologetics from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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