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Spoiler alert for “Avengers: Endgame” — big-time.
This is the endgame! In a nutshell, that’s what today’s column is intended to be: the last one. For the three of you who have been following this series enraptured with my four-week analysis of “Avengers: Endgame,” this may be a sad revelation. For those who didn’t understand why I had a four-week self-imposed “spoiler-free” edict followed by this series, this may be good news to almost rival that of the Bible! And I’m guessing if you haven’t seen the movie at this point, you probably don’t care anyway.
So, amongst all the action and big hero moments, there is a mixture of great philosophy, science and human understanding in this movie that I have been trying to unpack. I’ve been looking at this through the lens of the concept of time/time travel and the implications for individual identities in differing timelines. But there is an underlying question at work within this framework of the multiverse and parallel universes playing out all kinds of variations of timelines — where might God fit in all of this?
To begin with, the very science-fictiony framework of the multiverse is very much based on real science theory (not so much the ability to flip around from timeline to timeline or universe to universe as much as the possibility of their existence). Our heroes are convinced that this means that there are other possibilities and that reality is not fixed. In fact, the only one who seems to have the old traditional view of one single destiny (maybe that the creation of the Creator cannot change) is the villain Thanos who declares: “I am inevitable!”
Meanwhile, it appears that the Avengers are able themselves to alter destiny in what would appear to be the role of what theists might call God. All of which begs the question: can we see a role for God in this multiverse; and if God has one, is it just a Mickey Mouse cameo? The answer I would give to both is: yes!
A question I posed early on in this series was: if the timeline is split so that there are multiple earths and versions of each person, are there multiple Gods? The answer to that was actually given by St. Augustine in his Confessions book XI 16 centuries ago. Augustine made an assertion that when God acted as Creator “In the beginning,” God also created time. God himself (pardon the pronoun) is outside of time, being the very a priori from which everything comes into being. This makes the question of what came before creation an absurd question; because, since there was no time in existence, there is no “before.”
If that sounds confusing, just ask a physicist about what occurred before the Big Bang, and you will get pretty much the same explanation—time comes into being at the event of the Big Bang or from faith’s perspective, when God said, “Let there be light!” (But that’s a whole other subject). End product: one God!
Even in many traditional communion liturgies, there is the affirmation that it is the God of “every time and every place” who is able to be present in the sacrament across the common sense boundaries that we see on maps and calendars. And believe it or not, in real theological discussions, the assertion has been made that when life is found in some distant galaxy, it will still be the same Creator espoused in Genesis who created those extraterrestrials and their worlds, even Nebula and Gamora and the whole host of off-worlders we see in the Marvel Universe. As such, the God that can be seen as Creator of this universe can just as easily be seen as Creator of a multiverse as our human perspective of “what is” expands.
Human history is filled with the revelation that we are not the center. It started with geographic and cultural points on our planet (a point some still have problems with). Then a realization that earth is not the center of the solar system. Then that our solar system is not the center of the galaxy. Then that our galaxy is not the center of the universe. Is it a far leap to realize that our universe is not the center of the multiverse?
For some, such speculation may make us seem so small and insignificant. But from another perspective, in such vastness, when we perceive God’s intervention, it seems overly loving and marvelous that God searches and finds us in the midst of so much. One such example is hidden in plain sight prominently in the “Endgame” movie itself. To get the gist of it, there is one last theoretical concept to touch on: the Anthropic Principle.
There are a number of variations on the Anthropic Principle in physics, however, simply put, it states that the universe as we observe it has to be that way so that we can exist to observe it. In other words, there are any number of fundamental constants in the universe that, were the numbers varied by only small amounts, life would be untenable and therefore humankind would not exist to observe it.
In the multiverse theory, there are infinite universes where life itself is not even possible, some where human life is possible, some where we ourselves are possible, but only one that “I” experience because all the conditions are hit exactly right. For some, that convergence of exact correct conditions is seen as the work of the Creator either because God hit everything exactly as it needed to be at one crack, or because God cared enough to make an infinite number of efforts to get to the creation that we experience.
Now to God in the “Endgame”: did you already guess when I said “Mickey Mouse cameo?” You may have thought that was just a clever homage to Disney’s ownership of Marvel. But think more carefully about the plotline of the movie. The only way that the disappearance of half the universe’s population is reversed is because Ant-Man comes back from the Quantum Realm after five years and plants the seeds for the time heist. But the only reason Ant-Man is able to return is that the switches to activate the Quantum Bridge in that crusty brown van were pressed in the proper sequence by a random rat who happened to be wandering across the dashboard.
In how many parallel universes did that event never occur and Ant-Man forever dwells in the Quantum Realm relegating half the universe to eternal non-existence? We don’t know. But we do know that the real hero in “Endgame” is a seemingly random event, by a serendipitous rodent in a Mickey Mouse moment that almost goes unnoticed in the vastness of everything that follows.
Now, you may think that the true God moment would be the Armageddon-like scene at the end with Thanos’ evil forces stacked up against every Marvel hero we’ve seen (and some you really have to squint at to realize we’ve not met yet). But like with Elijah, it is not in the tumultuous wind, earthquake or fire that God speaks, but in the still, small voice, or as in this case, squeak of that rat!
“Avengers: Endgame” caps off a decade of creative storytelling that could simply act as momentary entertainment. However, as I hope you’ve understood, with a little effort, it can actually act as a catalyst to pique our curiosity about God’s investment in our individual identities, God’s creative force in time and space and God’s interactions, no matter how big or small, that mold the triumph of good in all things as our own ultimate destiny. And with that, we close the “Endgame” with a strong Amen! — The End!
Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.