It’s already been a busy year for superhero news. The most recent development is that Spider-Man, a member of the comic book version of the Avengers for about the past ten years, will finally be able to join Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the big screen. After a long string of contract negotiations with Sony Pictures Entertainment (partially illuminated by the major hack of Sony’s email servers last year), Disney/Marvel announced on Monday that they have reached an agreement that will allow the web-slinger to become a part of the ongoing comic book epic known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, current home of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’ Captain America.
Comic book fans the world over are thrilled at the fact that Spidey will at last be able to battle Thanos with the Avengers, or at least take his central role between Captain America and Iron Man in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. And whether he becomes a member of the Avengers or not, it’s quite clear that his presence in the universe makes it much richer.
But would a more Spider-y Avengers be a perfect team?
A Diverse Team
The Avengers is all about power and might. Captain America is a super soldier with the might of ten men; Iron Man wears a suit with the strength of fifty men; Thor as a demigod wields the power of a hundred men. And Hulk, well…
While Hawkeye and Black Widow add some level of skill and finesse to the team, they’re really second-tier members who are usually relegated to support duty.
But Spider-Man is not known for his strength and physical prowess. In fact, he’s one of the physically-weakest superpowered characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So why would he be an asset to the team? Because he gives them options that go beyond “punch it with your fist” and “punch it with your hammer”. Spidey can be quick and sneaky, two things that you can’t really say about the other members of the team. Plus, his spidey-sense can alert the team to danger before it is evident.
It’s important to realize that this particular strength is not limited to comic book characters. God’s plan to save the world is to build a team with a very diverse set of talents working on the same problem; he calls that team “the church.” In this plan, we need more than just punchers.
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?
Your Friendly Neighborhood Jokester
The Avengers are a little light on humor. Sure, Tony Stark tosses off a few one-liners in The Avengers, and Hulk gets some laughs with his “puny god” dig, but no Avenger even approaches the level of joke-saturation of a Spider-Man battle.
The groanworthiness of his jokes aside, the webslinger’s mouth should be an important part of his charm in the MCU. And I think it should be an important part of our charm today.
Old Puritans might disagree with me (with men like Edward Irving penning words like “Laughter… is a rather violent change in the law and order of nature to which [the body] is not willingly inclined if sanctified.”), but I would insist that God wants us to use humor as appropriately as poetry, prose and song. What’s more, we’re commanded to.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
The bolded word “gladness” above is translated from the Hebrew word meaning happiness, glee, and rejoicing; it has the connotation of a festival and is often used as the description of God’s own joy. In fact, as pointed out by Leslie B. Flynn in his book “Serve Him with Mirth,” God uses humor over and over in the Bible; from wordplay and understatement that can be difficult to catch by a modern ear to irony, sarcasm, oddness and silliness which we can understand easily today if we listen closely. He mocked with holy laughter the foibles and folly of our fallen world, but with a loving spirit that said “I love you dearly. You take yourself too seriously. Please, come with me and let me show you how silly you’re being.”
And thus, in the midst of a deeply serious moment, Jesus calls us to laugh with Him. As He delivers blow after blow to our sin and pride, He tosses off one-liners.
With Great Power comes Great Sadness
In the midst of Spidey’s jokes is, of course, great sadness. The beginning of his crimefighting career is marked by the death of his beloved Uncle Ben before his eyes, and the devastating death of his girlfriend in 1973 is one of the very few comic book deaths which has never been reversed. With the possible exception of Captain America, the members of the Avengers have not faced the loss that Peter Parker has had to deal with his entire life; and even he can rest in the happy knowledge that most of his friends and family lived happy, full lives after he was frozen.
Contrasted to the mirthful God of Psalm 100, the grieving Jesus of John 11 seems like a very different person.
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” […] When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
God weeps with the sad, as much as he laughs with the joyful. Don’t miss out on this important truth. There’s no way I could unpack this completely here, but know this, you who are hurting, you who weep: you are not alone. Jesus knows your pain. He felt it. And like Spider-Man, He allows you to seek out a group of “Avengers” who can bind you up and come alongside you in your mission. Take joy in their fellowship.
A Perfect Team?
Let’s be honest here. There’s no way that Spider-Man is going to join the Avengers and everything will be silky-smooth the entire time. There will be conflict. The movie he’s most likely to be in is called “Civil War,” for crying out loud. And maybe your experience with churches makes you feel like you’re in a civil war, too. But remember the immensity of the foes that you’re up against, and know that no matter how imperfect, the team you’re a part of is God’s Plan A. It’s His Plan A for changing your heart, growing your faith, and getting His word into the world.
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