God among the gods in Thor: Love and ThunderWritten by Subby Szterszky
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“God stands in the divine assembly; he pronounces judgment among the gods” (Psalm 82:1).
With this brief poetic sketch, the psalmist Asaph illustrates a truth that resounds across the pages of the Old Testament. In an ancient world filled with the gods of many nations, the living God of Israel stands utterly distinct from – and superior to – all of them. While these other gods are the products of human imagination, the power and character of the true God defies human understanding.
The movie Thor: Love and Thunder evokes this ancient truth in its own modern cinematic language. One of the film’s key scenes imagines what an actual assembly of the gods might look like. But beyond that scene, the movie’s themes of love, forgiveness and sacrifice provide a subtext that points to the unseen God who stands in the divine assembly and whose ways are far beyond these lesser gods.
[Spoiler alert: this article discusses themes, plot and characters from Thor: Love and Thunder. If you’re planning to see the film and haven’t yet, you may wish to do so before reading further.]
A story about gods, good and bad
Thor: Love and Thunder opens on a parched, famine-stricken world with its last two inhabitants, a father and his young daughter, clinging to the final moments of life. The man prays to his god for deliverance, but his little girl dies in his arms. As he lies on top of her grave near death himself, he spots a lush, green oasis, filled with colourful fruit and fresh water. In the oasis, the man meets his god and once more pleads for the life of his daughter. The god mocks his prayer, tells him the purpose of life is to suffer for the amusement of the gods, and assures him there’s no eternal reward after death.
The man, whose name is Gorr, renounces his god and slays him with an enchanted blade called the Necrosword, which appeared to him at just the opportune moment. Standing over the corpse of his tribal deity, Gorr vows, “All gods will die.”
Meanwhile Thor, the film’s titular hero and the Norse god of thunder, has been adventuring with a group of comrades, seeking a new purpose for his life. Over the course of four solo movies and a handful of Avengers films, Thor has followed a winding journey from arrogant royal son to noble hero. Along the way, he’s suffered the loss of his family and many of his close friends and has found that ruling Asgard isn’t for him. While he still has his periods of oblivious self-absorption, his heart is in the right place, fighting for justice, protecting the oppressed and using his power for the good of others.
It should be noted at this point that Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is a far more appealing figure than the Thor of Norse myth. The original god of thunder was essentially a macho bully, driven by a fragile ego with little concern beyond his self-interest. He rarely thought before he acted, making himself an easy target for his brother Loki’s malicious pranks. The modern MCU Thor, witty and sympathetic if occasionally obtuse, owes as much to basic Judeo-Christian ethics as he does to pagan mythology.
In any event, Thor learns about the man now known as Gorr the God Butcher as he wends his way across the cosmos and slaughters the gods of various planets with his dark sword. The thunder god embarks on a quest to stop Gorr, accompanied by his friends Korg, Valkyrie and Mighty Thor (a.k.a. Dr. Jane Foster, Thor’s ex-girlfriend, who has been given Thor’s powers via the mystic hammer, Mjolnir.)
Heroes and humans more noble than gods
The first stop for the little band is Omnipotence City, an assembly of gods representing a variety of mythologies and presided over by Zeus, chief of the Greek pantheon. Thor hopes to secure help for their mission but as it turns out, Zeus is more interested in wild parties and human sacrifice than in stopping Gorr’s murderous rampage. He orders Thor and his friends to abandon their quest, forcing them to fight their way out of Omnipotence City and face Gorr on their own.
Contrary to the MCU’s noble version of Thor, the portrayal of Zeus as a comical, depraved tyrant is over the top but not wholly at odds with the original Greek myths. While Zeus was praised by the ancient poets for his wisdom and justice, he was also depicted as cheating on his wife Hera with countless goddesses, nymphs and mortal women. Like most of the Olympian gods, Zeus was fickle and proud, doling out nasty punishments to anyone who frustrated his arbitrary will. From a modern perspective, the Ancient Greeks must’ve swallowed large gulps of cognitive dissonance to worship gods such as these.
Having left Zeus’ divine assembly behind, Thor and his friends track the God Butcher to the realm of Eternity, an all-powerful being who will grant the first wish presented to it. Gorr plans to ask Eternity to remove all gods from existence, but Thor and Jane Foster confront him, destroying the Necrosword and leaving Gorr near death.
The victory costs Jane her life as well, with her powers as Mighty Thor accelerating her stage four cancer. She freely embraces this ultimate sacrifice, making her more godlike than the other gods, in Thor’s estimation.
As Jane lies dying in Thor’s arms, the two of them persuade Gorr to exchange vengeance for love. Rather than wiping all gods from existence, why not ask Eternity to resurrect his daughter – whose actual name is Love? Gorr agrees and with his dying breath asks Thor to take care of his little girl.
The movie ends with Thor finding his purpose and embracing his role as a girl dad, making pancakes for his adopted daughter while she reads Dr. Jane Foster’s book on astrophysics. Being brought back to life by Eternity has given Love her own godlike powers, and Thor makes sure she puts on her outdoor boots before the two of them head out to fight evil together as Love and Thunder.
God stands in the divine assembly
Thor: Love and Thunder is an offbeat, creative and irreverent movie, by turns tragic and hilarious, but it also touches, if only lightly, on popular perceptions of deity and religious devotion. On the surface, the film appears to suggest that if any gods exist at all, they’re at best indifferent to suffering and evil, and at worst avid participants in it. Praying to them is pointless. Instead, humanity is better served pursuing goodness and love on our own terms, apart from any concepts of divinity.
As far as the film’s portrayal of mythological gods goes, it’s not wrong. In fact, it’s in line with the Bible’s depiction of pagan gods as dead and useless, unable to see or speak or do anything. These gods are human inventions, projections of our own hopes and fears. They represent the universal human desire for justice and mercy, but they also embody our worst failings and vices. Such gods are cruel and undependable, and their followers are forced to appease them with cringing flattery, self-harm or human sacrifice. Idol worship is not only desperately wicked but profoundly tragic.
The living God of Scripture, however, is nothing like these manmade deities. He’s the creator of all that exists, a different order of being beyond our understanding. His ways and thoughts are as far above ours as the vast starry cosmos is above our small blue planet. Indeed, that vast cosmos cannot contain God and is a mere speck in his hand. God is self-existent, without beginning or end, all-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere at once. David describes such knowledge in Psalm 139 as too high for him to grasp.
At the same time, this infinite, eternal God is personally involved in every detail of his creation, and in every moment of our lives. He loves and cares for us because that’s his nature. God calls each of the untold billions of stars by name and numbers the hairs on each of our heads. Far from being indifferent to death and suffering, much less revelling in it, he delights in showing kindness and mercy. The ultimate expression of God’s love and justice was at the Cross of Christ. In Jesus, God became a human being, entered our suffering and died for our sins so that we might live with him and enjoy him forever.
No human imagination would ever conceive a God like this. As our historical record shows, when we create gods in our image, they reflect our limitations and our moral shortcomings. They’re just more powerful than we are. We want them to be superheroes like Thor, but they turn out to be supervillains like Zeus and his cronies in Omnipotence City.
The problem of evil and other big questions
Amidst the fun and spectacle, Thor: Love and Thunder asks the age-old questions: Why does God allow evil to exist and people to suffer? Is he either unable or unwilling to do anything about it? Doesn’t he care? Is he even there at all?
Behind those questions lie a few others: What drives Thor on his journey from entitled heir of Asgard to defender of the weak and adoptive father to an orphaned girl? From whence comes Jane Foster’s resolve to give up her fight against cancer and sacrifice her life to save others? Why does Gorr, grieving the death of his daughter, choose forgiveness and love over vengeance in the end?
We value these qualities – and pursue them in our stories and in our lives – because we’re made in the image of God. Love and justice, truth and beauty, mercy and kindness, all are grounded in God’s character and he’s woven them into his created order.
The living God may not appear in the divine assembly of Omnipotence City. Yet his presence is felt throughout the film via the contrast between the sacrificial compassion of our heroes and the selfish indifference of the other gods. Through this juxtaposition, God implicitly stands in this assembly and judges the gods that are present.
High as the heavens above the earth
Despite its light tone, the movie takes the suffering of its characters seriously and calls us to respond with heartbreak and compassion. The fact that we do so demonstrates that we bear the image of a God who is far different than those in the story.
The gods of our making care nothing about our suffering and can do nothing about it, but the God who made us can and does. He sympathizes with our pain and walks with us through it. Because of his wisdom and goodness, we can be assured he has reasons for allowing it that we can’t understand but that serve our ultimate good. We can trust God in our tears – not just in our muted sobs but also in our ugly crying.
“Who is a God like you,” asks the prophet rhetorically, “forgiving iniquity and passing over rebellion for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not hold on to his anger forever because he delights in faithful love. He will again have compassion on us; he will vanquish our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,” echoes King David, “slow to anger and abounding in faithful love. He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust” (Psalm 103:8-14).
The heroes of Thor: Love and Thunder travel across vast stretches of space and visit fantastical realms of the gods. Yet even in this CGI world, we can see that God’s ways and thoughts and faithful love are as far above our understanding as the heavens are above the earth. If this can be appreciated in a fictional universe, how much more in the real one?
[Note: this article does not constitute an endorsement of the movie Thor: Love and Thunder by Focus on the Family Canada. Consult the full review at Plugged In to help you determine whether Thor: Love and Thunder is appropriate for you or your family.]
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2022 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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