Ethos Education

Avengers Infinity War: Why does God permit suffering?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand arguments that seek to reconcile a powerful, loving God with a suffering world.
  • Understand key concepts about God’s character.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect (positively and negatively) upon the state of the world today.
  • Analyse clips from Avengers Infinity War and consider the moral justification used by Thanos in seeking to end the life of half the people in the Universe.
  • Consider the similarities or differences between Thanos’s attitude and a Christian understanding of God’s attitude towards the world.
  • Analyse Bible passages that help explain how Christians reconcile a loving, powerful God with a suffering world.
  • Understand the responsibility of Christians to show God’s love to those around them.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a comparison of God and Thanos.

Supporting Values Education:

The value of mutual respect and tolerance recognises that different members of society, and indeed different members of faith communities, may hold divergent views on how best to enact the beliefs and values of that community. This lesson allows students to consider different beliefs about God and different responses to the problems of the world.

STARTER:

Put the students into small groups, and give each group a few minutes to brainstorm answers to one of the following questions (assign each question to half of the groups):

  • What is wrong with the world?
  • What is right with the world?

After a short time, call the class back together and take feedback, recording answers on the board in two columns for purposes of comparison. If the lists seem too one-sided in either direction, encourage students to think of some additional answers. Ask the students whether, in view of the lists, they think that the world is more or less a good place or a bad place. Who do they think is responsible for this state of affairs?

Explain that many people, whether they regard the world as a good or a bad place, think that the state of the world is a powerful argument for or against the existence of God. In today’s lesson you are going to be exploring that idea further.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from the film Avengers Infinity War (Marvel films, 2018, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that the Guardians of the Galaxy are responding to a distress call and hoping to earn money by helping whoever is in distress. In this clip they are about to arrive at the source of the distress call. Ask the students to pay particular attention to what is said about Thanos’ actions.

  • Start time:       0.27.51 (in chapter 4 of the DVD)
  • End time:         0.34.20
  • Clip length:      6 minutes and 29 seconds

The clip starts with the Guardians of the Galaxy arriving at their location and discovering the remains of a destroyed space ship. The first line is Mantis (Pom Klementieff) saying, ‘What happened?’ The clip ends with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) saying, ‘I bid you farewell and good luck, morons.’

Ask the students what Thanos (Josh Brolin) is doing. Draw out from them that he has set himself the task of killing half of all life forms in the Universe. Now ask why he is set on such a destructive path, and help them to remember that in the clip we were told that Thanos was trying to put the Universe back in balance.

Later in the film, what Thanos means by this becomes clearer. Introduce a second clip (if you only have time for one clip, summarise the plot developments of the first clip and use the second clip in full). In this clip, Thanos has captured Gamora (Zoe Saldana), his adopted daughter and one of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Here we see her confront him about his actions and he reminds her of the situation her home planet was in before he arrived and ‘restored balance’. Ask the students to pay particular attention to both sides of the debate – what are the points of disagreement between Gamora and Thanos concerning the rights and wrongs of what he did.

  • Start time:       1.02.29 (beginning of chapter 9 of the DVD)
  • End time:         1.05.31
  • Clip length:      3 minutes and 2 seconds

What do the students think about Thanos’ solution to the Universe’s problems? What are the pros and cons, and which outweighs the other. Point out that while his method – bringing death to millions – is horrific, in his mind he is working for a noble cause rather than just killing for the sake of it.

Ask them to sum up what is wrong with Thanos’ solution to the Universe’s problems. Draw out the fundamental lack of compassion at the heart of his plan – he is so fixated on the big picture that he is unable to comprehend the effects of his plan on an individual level. He isn’t concerned about all the people who have to suffer in order for ‘balance’ to be restored.

Christians believe that God is all-powerful, and also that the perfect world he made is no longer perfect – that it is home to suffering, injustice and evil. The question of how to reconcile the concept of an all-powerful God with a world where suffering and injustice are widespread is a complex one. For many people, God’s apparent inaction is a powerful argument against belief in the Christian God. Others argue that far from being inactive, God is indeed at work in the world.

Explain that a number of different things that Christians believe have to be considered in order to understand how to reconcile the idea of a powerful, loving God and a world where many people experience suffering and injustice. A summary of these appears on the God and Suffering worksheet, which you should give out to the students now. Ask the students (working individually, in pairs or in small groups) to go through the Bible passages listed on the sheet, matching each one up to one or more of the statements of belief. The statements are listed below for your reference, along with our thoughts as to which passages apply to each statement of belief.

Christians believe:

  • …that God created the world, and that what he made was good. (Genesis 1:31)
  • …that God made human beings with free will, and that they chose to reject God. (Romans 3:10-18, Romans 3:21-26)
  • …this spoiled the perfect world that God had made. (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:20-22)
  • …that God is a just God, who will one day put right everything that is wrong with the world. (Psalm 9:7-10)
  • …that God is also a loving and merciful God, who has made it possible for people to be put right with him. (John 3:16-17; Romans 3:21-26)
  • …that once God brings justice to the world, it will mean the final judgment of everybody’s life. Anyone who hasn’t been put right with God by then will face eternal punishment. (Revelation 20:11 – 21:5)

Take feedback from the students, discussing their answers with the class as you go, to make sure that they have understood what Christians believe and how it is relevant to the subject under discussion. You could point out that much of the suffering in the world is the result of human action. If students believe that it would be wrong for God to take away human free will and leave people unable to make their own choices, is it still reasonable to blame him when things like these happen?

Christians believe that God will put right all the wrongs in the world, but that he will only do this at the end of time, when everyone will stand before him to face judgement. In the meantime, God does not leave the world without any solution to injustice and suffering before his final righting of wrongs. Rather, he expects his followers to work on his behalf, showing his love to the people around them. Romans 12:9-21 is a good example of the Bible commanding Christians to live their lives in this way. It would also be worth pointing out that God’s solution of sending Jesus to die on a cross was far from an easy option, costing God enormous pain and suffering in the person of Jesus. To summarise the most significant difference between God and Thanos, Thanos was willing to kill on a vast scale to save the Universe, whereas God was willing to die to save the people that he created.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Remind the students that there are parallels between Thanos and God – one seeks ultimate power in order to ‘restore balance’, while showing no concern for who suffers in his pursuit of this; the other is all-powerful but permits suffering to exist for a time until he is able to make everything perfect again and restore his creation to the way it was meant to be. Ask students to write a list of similarities and a list of differences between Thanos and what Christians believe about God.

YOU WILL NEED:

 

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