Ethos Education

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble: What kind of ruler do Christians believe God to be?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand key concepts about God’s nature.
  • Understanding of what Christians believe about the identity of Jesus.
  • Consider key moments in the ministry of Jesus.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon the responsibility that goes with ultimate power.
  • Consider the idea that humans are made to be ruled over.
  • Analyse a debate about the importance of rulers showing selflessness and service to those who they rule over.
  • Analyse what the Bible says about Jesus’ use of power and his attitude to other people.
  • Analyse specific Bible passages to draw comparisons between Jesus’ behaviour and others in positions of influence and power.
  • Synthesise a discussion about the differences between the Christian ideal of selfless leadership and the practice of authority in the modern world.

STARTER:

Ask the students to brainstorm a list of things that they would do if they ruled the world. Encourage frivolous and silly answers, particularly ones along the lines of enforcing the ruler’s personal taste and preferences upon everyone else (for example, banning a particular band, or making it so that a particular football team always won the big trophies).

Ask the students how they would feel if someone else was ruling the world and imposing similar rules on them, rules which didn’t necessarily fit the students’ tastes and preferences. What qualities would the students look for in choosing someone to wield that kind of power? Draw out that such a position would be open to abuse, and would require someone who was willing to use that authority for the common good, not just for personal advantage.

Explain that in this lesson you are going to be thinking more about Christian belief concerning God’s authority over the world.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the first clip from the film Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (Paramount, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has a plan to seize control of planet Earth. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what he says when he addresses the crowd of ordinary humans.

  • Start time:       0.35.52 (beginning of chapter 8 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.41.04
  • Clip length:      5 minutes and 12 seconds

The clip starts with cars outside a large building, swiftly cutting to scenes inside an elaborate formal party. The clip ends after Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) exchange greetings. Please note that this clip includes Loki removing a man’s eyeball in order to use it for a retina scan. We have included this early part of the scene, as it establishes Loki’s lack of regard for humans. If you decide that it is too graphic for showing to your students, you can use a shorter version of the clip, starting at 0.37.45 (Loki transforms into his Asgardian costume; the first line is Loki saying, ‘Kneel before me’.)

Whichever version of the clip you use, you might want to pause the disc rather than stop it, as the next clip (see section 3) continues precisely where this one finishes.

Ask the students whether or not they agree with Loki’s suggestion that humans were made to be ruled. Is it true that secretly we ‘crave subjugation’? Draw out some situations where we like to have people telling us what to do, and others where we resent authority.

Explain that Loki is far from the only being with superpowers in Marvel’s Avengers Assemble. In this clip, his brother Thor challenges Loki’s vision for ruling over the earth. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what Thor sees lacking in Loki’s concept of rule.

  • Start time:       0.41.04 (beginning of chapter 9)
  • End time:         0.45.15
  • Clip length:      4 minutes and 11 seconds

The clip starts with a shot of a SHIELD plane flying in the night sky. The first line is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) asking, ‘Saying anything?’ over the radio. The clip ends with Loki saying, ‘I’m listening,’ after Thor is suddenly whisked away by Iron Man in the middle of berating Loki.

Ask the students to summarise the difference between Loki and Thor’s approach to wielding authority. Draw out that while Loki wants to rule over people, thinking only of his own interests, Thor is concerned for the wellbeing of his subjects, even though they are not as powerful as he is.

Explain that some people see Christian claims of God’s authority as being more like Loki’s concept of rule: a self-declared superior being who demands obedience and restricts the options of his subjects. It is true that a Christian teacher would agree with Loki that humanity was made to be ruled, but that the rule humans were made for has more in common with Thor’s understanding than that of his power-mad brother. As Captain America says, ‘There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.’

Explain to the class that you are going to illustrate the difference between the Christian concept of God’s rule and Loki’s idea of ultimate power by looking at biblical accounts of how Jesus dealt with power. Christians believe that Jesus is God. As God they believe he has both awesome power and rightful authority over people – in fact over the whole of creation. Ask them to keep this in mind as they look at three situations that Jesus was confronted with.

Split the class into groups and give out the Jesus and Power worksheets. You are going to look at three Bible passages, and depending on time each group can look at one, two or all three. Tell different groups to start with different passages (i.e. some with the Matthew passage, some with John and some with Mark). That way if there isn’t time for each group to look at all three, you will have someone to feedback on each of the passages.

Matthew 4:1-10
Having spent forty days in the wilderness without food, Jesus is visited by the Devil who tempts him to turn stones into food and feed himself. Jesus is then tempted to display his power to people by throwing himself off the temple roof, secure in the knowledge that angels would rescue him. Lastly, he is tempted to reject His Father in order to rule the world himself.

Here are the questions from the worksheet:

  • Why didn’t Jesus go along with the Devil’s ideas?
  • What is the significance of the fact that each time Jesus answers the Devil, he refers to passages from the Old Testament?
  • Sum up why you think Jesus took the decisions he did instead of using his power.

John 13:3-9
Jesus knew that his Father had given him complete power (v3). This is the context for Jesus giving this amazing display of humility. It would normally have been a servant’s job to wash the feet of visitors.

Here are the questions from the worksheet:

  • Why do you think Peter was so horrified at Jesus’ actions?
  • What would normally happen in these situations? Can you think of an equivalent scenario in our own day? (What about your Head Teacher bringing you your dinner while you sit at a table at lunchtime?)
  • In what ways could this story about Jesus be compared to the Christmas story of Jesus being born as a baby in Bethlehem’s stable?
  • Think about v3. Do you think Jesus’ knowledge of what was going to happen to him made any difference to how he served his disciples in this episode? What does this passage tell us about Jesus?

Mark 10:35-37 and 41-45
The disciples are frequently seen arguing about their relative importance (see also Mark 9:33-37). Even in the light of Jesus telling them about his impending arrest and execution, James and John still seem more concerned about their place in the pecking order once Jesus takes charge. Jesus points out that unlike other figures of authority who ‘lord it over’ others, in his Kingdom leadership means being a servant to others.

Here are the questions from the worksheet:

  • What did James and John want from Jesus?
  • How do their desires seem to conflict with what Jesus was telling them in v33-34?
  • Why might the other disciples (v41) have been annoyed with James and John?
  • How does Jesus describe the normal behaviour of people in power? (v42)
  • In what way is his example different from normal behaviour?
  • How does Jesus demonstrate that he is personally committed to the idea of leadership as service? (v45)

Allow some time to feedback answers from the previous exercise.

Ask the students to suggest some words which sum up Jesus’ attitude to how he exercised power and authority (e.g. humility, selflessness, love, considerate). Ask the students to think of some modern examples of power and authority which are similar to this.

Point out that Jesus’ attitude towards exercising authority is one which Christians believe they should also share. Ask the students to read Philippians 2:2-9. Explain that the letters in the New Testament often deal with problems that have arisen because of the behaviour of people in the church. In this case Paul has written to a church in Philippi where there has been in-fighting amongst its members. Paul doesn’t just say, ‘You really should be thinking about others before yourself’, nor does he quote a law or a commandment. Rather, he holds Jesus up (v5) as the perfect example of humbly putting others’ needs ahead of our own. In verses 6-8 Paul summarises the amazing humility of Jesus as he traces his move from the glory of heaven, to earth, to disgrace, to death – even death on a cross. Christians are encouraged to make moral choices and behave in certain ways based on a response to what Jesus has done for them and with him as their example for life. (Note: Paul is not suggesting that there should be no proper order in the church with regard to having people in authority. The New Testament encourages Christians who meet together to have responsible people in authority. However, what this passage teaches is the attitude that individuals should have for one another whether in authority or not.)

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write an alternative version of the scene between Thor and Loki, with an additional character joining their discussion: the apostle Paul (the writer of Philippians 2:2-9 which the students read earlier in the lesson). Paul should offer a Christian perspective on authority, and on God’s unique suitability to wield such power.

YOU WILL NEED:

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