This past summer, all I heard about were superheroes. Look at all the movies that came out this summer: “Thor”, “X-Men: First Class”, “Green Lantern”, “Captain America”—I think we have an obsession with superheroes. Either that or the movie studios just have money to burn. And not only that, but “The Avengers” started shooting in my hometown last month, and “The Dark Knight Rises” started shooting in my parents’ hometown the month before that! Superhero movies are everywhere. But to me, there are only a couple that I really like. Why? Because they represent people that I know from the Bible. As I wrote a couple months ago, Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman seem like an allegory to the Christian believer dying to self and becoming more like Christ, even if he is hated by the world. But there’s another superhero movie that reminds me of another Bible character. Here’s “Iron Man”.
I remember when “Iron Man” was released hearing that this movie helped revive Robert Downey, Jr.’s career. That was irrelevant to me—I knew him only as Joe Wershba from “Good Night, and Good Luck.” But anyway, in this film, Downey, Jr., plays the title character, otherwise known as Tony Stark. Tony is the son of engineering giant Howard Stark, who developed manufacturing company Stark Industries. (I think. Yeah, the comic book fans probably know more about this than I do.) Anyway, when Howard and his wife died in a car crash, Tony became the head of Stark Industries, making it the biggest manufacturing company in the world. Or something. However, Tony himself, though he is a rich genius, he is also a wealthy playboy (not much different than Bruce Wayne, now that I think of it) who gambles, drinks, and hangs out with women. (To put it lightly.)
Then one day, as Tony is demonstrating a new weapon for the Americans to use in Afghanistan, his vehicle is attacked (by weapons stolen from Stark Industries), the soldiers around him are killed, and he is captured by terrorists. But he’s not alone—he joins Yinsen (Shaun Toub), a native captive who is also a scientist. He was able to develop a kind of mechanical heart for Tony to prevent the shrapnel in his chest from killing him. They are assigned to make the terrorists a missile as good as that of Stark Industries. But Tony and Yinsen have another plan: basically, make a robot and use it to escape. Eventually, they finish and Tony is able to attack some of the terrorists and escape. But Yinsen is shot down, and as he dies, he tells Tony something short but powerful: “Don’t waste your life.”
And Tony takes this to heart when he leaves the terrorists’ camp and his colonel friend Rhodey (Terrence Howard) brings him back home. At a press conference, Tony shocks everyone with what he has to say:
TONY: I saw young Americans killed by the very weapons I created to defend them and protect them. And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero-accountability.
REPORTER: Mr. Stark… what happened over there?
TONY: I had my eyes opened. I came to realize that I had more to offer this world than just making things that blow up. And that is why, effective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturing division of Stark Industries.
And everyone, including Rhodey, Tony’s assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and family “friend” Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), is shocked at what’s happened to Tony Stark. So now, to make a long story short, Tony rebuilds his robot and turns it into the robot superhero Iron Man, he stops chasing women and starts building a better relationship with Pepper, he finds out that Obadiah wants control of Stark Industries and made a deal with the terrorists to get rid of Tony, Obadiah makes a robot suit of his own and fights Iron Man with it, Tony is victorious, and he admits being Iron Man to the rest of the world. I just summarized about an hour of film in one run-on sentence. You’re welcome. “The Avengers” comes out May 4, 2012.
But anyway, if Tony Stark is supposed to resemble a Bible character, who could it be? Maybe you’ve figured it out already: the Apostle Paul. I never really realized it myself until reading an article on PluggedIn.com, which I encourage you all to check out, which talked about superhero movies and referenced how Tony Stark has a “Damascus road experience” and changes his ways. So what I’d like to do is share with the story of the Apostle Paul, formerly known as the Pharisee Saul.
Saul was a zealous Jew who grew up studying the Bible and was passionate about his faith. And when Jesus started teaching, more and more people became Christians, and to Saul, it was a blasphemous threat. So Saul went to great lengths to stop the spread of Christianity, even if it meant putting families in prison for it. But one day, as he was on the road to Damascus persecuting Christians, a light shone out of nowhere and stopped Saul and his companions.
“He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’
“‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.
“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ He replied. ‘Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
“The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” (Acts 9:4-9)
Soon, God sends Ananias, a Christian in Damascus, to heal Saul’s blindness and baptize him. And pretty soon, Saul, the zealous Pharisee, becomes Paul, the zealous Christian disciple, who is responsible for writing most of the New Testament and starting what we now know as the Christian church. (No, I don’t mean church as in the building; I mean it as the idea of fellowship between Christians. In those times, Christianity was persecuted so much that believers had to meet in secret.) And this is the kind of transformation that Tony Stark exhibits in “Iron Man”: what he created to use for destruction, he now uses to fight off enemies, very similar to how Paul now preaches the way of life he used to persecute!
The story of the Apostle Paul is very powerful, and it shows how God can transform anyone, even those who have persecuted his name. My prayer for you, the reader, is that you will have the zeal and passion to follow Christ as Paul had, even when it shocks the people around you.