This weekend Jennifer and I re-watched Marvel’s Doctor Strange on Netflix and I was struck by some of the themes present in the movie and how they inspired me on a theological level. Some of you may be familiar with the movie, or the comic books that inspired it, and immediately think I’m crazy or demon-possessed for thinking I can derive godly inspiration from a story centered completely on magic and eastern mysticism. I knew many people when I was growing up that would have said watching this movie would lead good Christians away from God and into the arms of Satan and the Black Arts. Well, I don’t at all mind declaring that I’ve read and watched all of Harry Potter, played Magic Cards and Dungeons & Dragons, and countless other magic and sorcery inspired fantasy games, and I have yet to turn away from God and become a master of black magic. Fear is the weapon of the Enemy, not Fantasy. Remember that. Enough soap boxing, let’s get back to business.
(SPOILER ALERT – If you don’t want the movie ruined for you, go watch it and come back. If you don’t care, keep reading)
If your aren’t familiar with the story, Stephen Strange—a hotshot brain-surgeon who is on top of the world—ruins his perfect life because he couldn’t put his cell phone away (another lesson we should all take from this movie). After a horrible car crash, Strange’s hands are beyond repair and Western medicine cannot give the doctor his life back. These failures eventually lead the doctor to seek out a monastery where lost-causes have been known to be miraculously healed. Once there, the scientifically-minded and skeptical Doctor Strange is forced to admit his own ignorance and comes to discover a beautiful and amazing world of the Spirit. He also learns of a timeless dark force beyond reality that seeks to devour all worlds.
When Doctor Strange finally comes face to face with the primary agent of that dark force—a fallen sorcerer who trained under the same master—the villain has this to say,
“The world is not what it ought to be; Humanity longs for the eternal. For a world beyond time, because Time is what enslaves us. Time is an insult. Death is an insult.”
That is such a powerful statement. It rings true and echoes within our hearts because it’s at the very core of the Gospel. Humanity was created in God’s image to live eternally in communion with Him. Because of Sin, the world is not what it ought to be and Death reigns. Death is the ultimate enemy of Humanity; Satan is just its primary agent. It is Death that must be conquered, which leads me to my favorite moment in the entire film.
At the climax of the movie, Dormammu—the aforementioned timeless ruler of the dark dimension—has seemingly won and the world is about to be consumed by his hunger. Seeing the death and destruction around him, Doctor Strange flies deep into Dormammu’s realm to confront the dark entity face to face. As he sets down, Strange uses a powerful relic he acquired earlier in the film to create a time loop (kinda like the movie Groundhog Day but shorter) which results in the timeless Dormammu killing him over and over again. Strange creates a Paradox that the Enemy can’t ignore.
Dormammu: “What is this?”
Strange: “You and me, trapped in this moment, endlessly.”
Dormammu: “Then you will spend an eternity dying.”
Strange: “Yes. But everyone on earth will live.”
Dormammu: “But you will suffer.”
Strange: “Pain is an old friend.”
We aren’t told exactly how long Strange and Dormammu go through the loop, or how many times the hero dies, but in the end Doctor Strange forces the timeless destroyer to bargain. He convinces Dormammu to leave the earthly realms forever and take his agents with him.
Every time I watch this scene I can’t get over how perfect an illustration it is for Christ’s victory on the Cross. Like any Hero Story, the Messianic parallels of self-sacrifice are obvious but there is a much deeper and complex theology present within this scene that I would like to highlight—Timelessness.
We all know the story: one night, about two-thousand years ago, a human woman named Mary gave birth to a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was Immanuel—God With Us—and for 33 years God lived a human existence as Jesus of Nazareth. Like Stephan Strange, Jesus was a normal human being with a family and neighbors who grew from a child into an adult. He was a human being with a personality just like any one of us. But while Doctor Strange had the Eye of Agmotto as a weapon, Jesus happened to have an eternally divine nature when he did battle. When Jesus died on the Cross, he battled Death—the Great Enemy—and for three days, the Son of God was held in its gaping maw. Like Doctor Strange before Dormammu, the perfect Son of God, who by his nature and actions should have reigned eternally, stood before the face of Death and struck a bargain for the peoples of the Earth. We know the end of that story as well: on that first Easter Morning, the Son of God was victorious over Death and stepped out of his tomb. But there is so much more to it. Because the man Jesus is also God, he is eternal—timeless. His atoning sacrifice and victory over Death exist in the Past, the Present, and the Future. All of History has been covered in the Blood of Christ, and each soul, regardless of when they lived, has been given the opportunity to believe in him and enter into the Kingdom of God.
By doing so, we escape from a world that is not what it ought to be and step into a world where we are what we were meant to be—the New Creation. We escape from the clutches of Death with a hope for the new life that is promised by Jesus’s resurrection. By Christ’s timeless sacrifice and victory, a beautiful new world is open to us. We just have to take his hand and step through the gate.
Amen to that.
I bet you never would have guessed that Doctor Strange could help you understand Theology.