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Avengers: Endgame—Is It Really the End?

Screenshot taken from Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame | Special Look

 

Written By Simon Moetara, New Zealand

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

 

I remember walking out of the theatre after watching Avengers: Infinity War last year in a daze.

The good guys had lost.

One by one—Peter Parker, T’Challa, Groot, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, and so, so many others—evaporated into dust, as the Mad Titan clicked his gauntleted fingers, leaving billions dead across the world, and trillions across the universe.

For days after, my mind wrestled with the “if onlys”. If only Peter Quill had kept his cool. If only Iron Man had just cut Thanos’s infinity-gloved hand off with a laser. If only Thor had gone for the head.

Western culture has not prepared me well for unhappy endings.

But Avengers: Infinity War was really only half the story, and I’d have to wait over a year for the chance at closure and catharsis.

Avengers: Endgame (2019) is the climax of “The Infinity Saga”, bringing to a close an epic 22-film series that began with Iron Man way back in 2008. In Infinity War, we saw characters we love die on-screen—will they return? Can the remaining Avengers undo the insane loss triggered by the Dark Lord Thanos?

Endgame has a sombre beginning, as we revisit the shock of half of all life disappearing from the universe. We meet a band of despondent heroes, filled with despair, struggling to cope with the unimaginable enormity of their failure. One tries to drown his sorrows in permanent drunkenness, while another takes out his rage and grief in vigilante violence. The early part of the film explores their anguish and loss. They are all grieving and overwhelmed, unsure how to continue in a world that they have failed to defend, in which they have lost so much.

 

What are you willing to sacrifice?

Human connection and relationships are central to Endgame, and many characters appear and reconnect from throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline, reminding me of the four types of human loves C. S. Lewis summarized in his classic The Four Loves. Examples abound in Endgame of Lewis’ loves, adding emotional depth and pathos to the story.

First, Lewis speaks of storge, a deep family love and affection, such as the love between parents and children. We revisit the relationship between Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) and his father Howard Stark, we see Scott Lang (Ant-Man) reuniting with his daughter Cassie, and we witness Thor’s deep love for his stepmother Frigga. Often portrayed in comic form as a braggart and womanizer, Clint Barton (Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a loyal and loving family man, devastated by the loss of his family. And there’s also Rocket’s grieving over the loss of his surrogate family, the Guardians, and Nebula’s father-issues with the Mad Titan himself.

Lewis then speaks of philia, the love between friends, “as strong as siblings in strength and duration.” We see the close camaraderie between Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson) and Clint Barton, and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) reaches out to a hurting Thor (Chris Hemsworth), while Korg (Taika Waititi) still hangs out with his Asgardian mate playing Fortnite.

Then there is eros, romantic love. We see Stark in space, expecting to die, declaring “it’s always you” to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). And there’s Rogers, often pondering the picture he keeps of Peggy Carter, and their love that never had a chance to grow.

And finally, there is the fourth love, agape, the unconditional love of God, the love that, “is all giving, not getting.” Empire reviewer Helen O’Hara notes that if the theme of the last film was, “We don’t trade lives,” this one is “all about responsibility, and self-sacrifice, and being willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ to win the day.”

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV). In Endgame, the human cost of self-sacrifice and the selflessness of heroism is front and centre.

These loving relationships emphasize the very intimate, human aspects of this epic tale, increasing the stakes for which our heroes are fighting.

 

Can the world be restored?

There is also the bigger picture, of undoing Thanos’s dark deed and making the world right again. At one point, Tony Stark shares his desire to see “families reunited” and the “world restored.” We’ve witnessed the emotional fallout and the deep sense of loss of those left behind, but what if it could be undone? Can the death of so many somehow be reversed? What if loved ones could be reunited, and the world somehow restored?

This theme particularly resonates with me, and with the Christian worldview. Like our heroes, we live in a world filled with the pain and darkness, where suffering is an all too present reality, and we know that things aren’t the way they should be. However, God seeks to renew this present world, working until it is rescued, healed, and restored. John speaks in Revelation 21-22 of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. New Testament scholar Tom Wright tells us that God “will transform the whole world and fill it with his justice, his joy, and his love.”  And this is good news indeed.

There is also something about us as human beings that resists the reign of death. In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey ponders Christ’s resurrection, and recalls one year in which he lost three friends. He goes on to write, “Above all else, I want Easter to be true because of its promise that someday I will get my friends back. I want to abolish that word irreversible forever.”

Like Yancey, I yearn to see my loved ones again. I long to see the defeat of death. This is part of the joy that arises because of Christ’s resurrection: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, NLT).

And this is the same theme that kept viewers anticipating Endgame’s release, each of us harboring an eager and expectant hope that good would triumph over evil, and, maybe, just maybe, if our heroes can pull it off, we might see those characters that we love so much somehow restored to life again.

Endgame is an emotional roller-coaster ride, with poignant moments of touching humanity and lashings of breathtaking action. It marks the end of an era, and what a ride it has been.

As I left the film, I found myself thankful that God continues to draw people to himself and seeks to renew and restore this world. And I look forward to the time when He will wipe every tear from every eye, and when “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain,” for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).

How God Used My Painful Experiences to Bless Others

Written by Jefferson, Singapore, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

A few weeks ago, my Bible study group in church was reading Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life together. There was a section from the book that caught my attention:

It is the last category, painful experiences, that God uses the most to prepare you for ministry. God never wastes a hurt! In fact, your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt. [Emphases are all Rick Warren’s]

This paragraph resonated with me deeply as I was reminded of how God used a painful episode I had just gone through to reach out to my colleague, who is a non-believer.

A few days before that, a close friend in church had confronted me about my insensitive behavior. He was hurt because I would often prioritize my needs above his. And this applied to some of my other friends too. For instance, I would insist that they accompany me out for meals even though I knew that they were exhausted and would have preferred to rest instead.

After my friend confronted me, I was quick to apologize but deep down, I was far from convicted.

“Was what he said true? Am I as selfish as he depicted me to be?”

I struggled with these questions for days because I could not reconcile what he had told me with how I perceived myself.

As I continued reading The Purpose Driven Life, the section on Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 comforted me greatly. He recounted his sufferings during his ministry in Asia Minor, which reminded him to rely on the Lord wholeheartedly.

In response to that passage, Rick Warren wrote: “For God to use your painful experiences, you must be willing to share them. You have to stop covering them up, and you must honestly admit your faults, failures, and fears. . .Paul understood this truth, so he was honest about his bouts with depression.”

Those words reprimanded me. Being criticized is never pleasant. While it is often conveyed with good intentions—that we may see and correct our flaws—it will hurt our feelings inevitably. However, I decided to look past the hurt and embrace my friend’s criticism with an open heart. I also made a commitment to be more sensitive towards my friends’ needs.

 

Painful Experiences Help Us to Know Ourselves Better

Through my friend’s criticism, God opened my eyes to the sins I was previously blind to. As I pondered over this, Psalm 139:23-24 came to mind:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

I realized that I have been selfish and inconsiderate of those around me. Though it was hard, I am thankful for this experience as I was once again reminded of my sinfulness, but even more so of His grace that enables me to walk in obedience.

 

God Uses Our Painful Experiences to Bless Others

A few weeks after this happened, God gave me the opportunity to share my experience with a colleague, who is a free thinker.

As we were walking back to the office after lunch one day, he asked me what I thought of him. I decided to probe into his sudden inquiry before answering his question.

Apparently, one of his friends had vilified and criticized him harshly. After he shared his experience with me, I decided to share about my experience of being criticized—how my friend’s criticism led me to understand myself better and how God helped me to reconcile with my friends.

My colleague listened intently until I began to speak of the reconciliation with my friends. He interrupted me and asserted that he did not believe in God. He was not convinced that the reconciliation I had experienced was done with God’s help.

Even though he proceeded to change the conversation topic promptly, I could tell that my sharing made an impression on him. While he may not have been open to talk about God, I believe that God had still worked through me to reveal His love to him.

In the words of Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Life, “Who could better help an alcoholic recover than someone who fought that demon and found freedom?” We can be God’s vessels to minister to those who face the same struggles as us.

I learned that there is meaning to our struggles. While it may seem that God is chastising us, He has a purpose that is beyond our understanding. He will be our comfort in our pain. When we confess our sins and repent, He will forgive us and help us so that His works may be realized through us.

When we relate our painful experiences with those who are in similar situations, the door is open for us to share God’s love. An honest testimony about how God works through our weaknesses can be used to open the eyes of others to the Lord.

If you are going through a painful experience, I hope that my sharing will encourage you. The Lord never promised that we will be spared from pain and tears in this life, but He has promised to work through us despite our sinfulness, and bring us healing and comfort. He can also use these painful experiences to glorify His name and bless those around us.

See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39)

Your Future Is Not Determined By Your Circumstances

Written By Timothy Lee, Taiwan, originally in Simplified Chinese

Many people believe that in order to achieve success, one needs a head start in life–you need to be ahead right at the starting line. What this means is that your chance of “success” is determined by your family background. If you come from a privileged background, you have a higher chance of success in life.

I come from a complicated family background. My father was a third-generation gangster, and my mother was a drug addict. My parents brought me into the world while they were still very young and soon after I was born, they gave me up for adoption.

My mother’s use of drugs throughout her pregnancy caused me to suffer many health problems since birth, including an inflamed kidney when I was just one year old. Because of that, I spent a lot of time in the hospital.

At this point, you would probably be thinking that this child was fated to a life of tragedy, but by God’s grace, a miracle happened to me. A Christian family who learned of my situation decided to adopt me, giving this weak and sick child from a complex background a chance to enjoy a normal childhood.

 

Starting At a Disadvantage

And so, I began my race in this life. But I quickly realized that the “starting line” was not at the point of my birth, but when I was still in my mother’s womb. While the new environment helped in terms of my personal growth, it couldn’t alleviate my health problems. From a young age, I needed to rely on the regular use of steroids to manage my recurrent kidney illness.

Furthermore, I was a hyper-active child, often running around and getting into trouble. Even though my family spent a lot of time and money to help me, I could never sit still nor did I enjoy studying. This frustrated the adults in my family. No one had high hopes for my future.

 

The Turning Point

When I was 13, I suffered another bout of problems with my kidney, and this time I was in the worst condition I had ever been in. My belly was swollen, and I was unable to pass urine. On top of that, my body was continually losing protein. Even after a month into my stint in the hospital, doctors were still unable to find a cure and could only manage my illness by increasing the dosage of my steroid intake. And because of my severe loss of protein, I needed to undergo IV treatment to maintain the level of protein within my body.

Just when it seemed that my situation was utterly hopeless, my family brought the pastor of our church to pray for me. The next day, I began to recover miraculously. I was able to pass urine naturally, and within a week, I was able to leave the hospital.

During a follow-up appointment two years later, I was informed by the doctor that I no longer needed to take steroids, and that the risk of relapse was very low. The doctors never found the reason for my sudden and speedy recovery, but I do remember a nurse saying to me at the time, “Your God has saved you!”

God’s plan is different for everyone; not everyone will go through such dramatic experiences. But this experience became a turning point in my life. From that day on, I was transformed. I started to devote myself to prayer, studying the Bible, and attending church. I also tried to work on my character, leaving behind the rashness of my earlier days. Not long afterwards, I was baptized as a Christian, and started serving in church. God said to me that my life is His, and since He has redeemed me, I should be serving Him.

When I was 19, I was admitted into a good university in Hong Kong, and even served as chair of the student council. Though as a child I had been looked down upon, now I was seen as a good student and role model. This transformation was completely God’s work.

Even though these achievements have given me a better standing in the eyes of the world, to me, the most important measure of success is not in gaining admiration from men, but in belonging to God’s kingdom—being affirmed by God as His child and being sustained by His unfailing love.

 

Finishing the Race Well

I was someone with no hope for the future, simply surviving by virtue of the strong medication I’d been taking. And yet, God not only gave me a family who was willing to take care of me, healed me both physically and spiritually, but He also gave me wisdom and favor in the eyes of men. The changes in my life testify to the goodness of the God we read about in the Bible.

Friends, perhaps you are currently weighed down by your circumstances: Why am I worse off than others in so many aspects? Why was I not born with a silver spoon in my mouth? How can I be anything in life, having started with a disadvantage?

As I was growing up, these were complaints that I often had. And yet, there is a passage in the Bible that still moves me and reminds me not to complain about my circumstances:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

Every time I read this verse, my heart is filled with gratitude—I was once considered “lowly” by the world’s standards, but God has redeemed my life by His grace. Even from my mother’s womb, God preserved my life, and has a plan and purpose for me.

So, when we rely on God, even though we may start at a disadvantage, we can still finish the race well. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have struggles throughout our lives. But if your life, like mine, was filled with brokenness from the start and you do not wish to fall into a whirlpool of tragedy, I have great news for you—God can redeem your life and fill it with His hope.

If this is your heart’s desire, I invite you to pray this prayer:

Dear God,

I confess that I cannot completely control my life. I am unable to change things like my family background. But I know that You are the God who is able to redeem all things.

Therefore, I willingly accept you as the Lord of my life! Allow me to experience the change that comes from believing and trusting in You. I believe that You can lead me on a different path, because you are the Creator God who truly gives meaning to my life.

Please help me, so that I do not lose myself in the world’s definition of success and the hope of approval from others. Let my life be immeasurably valuable and meaningful because of my fellowship with You. Amen!

The Day I Stopped Hiding My Gift

Written By Shelley Pearl, New Zealand

 

“I look at your work and the intern’s, and I cannot see the difference between the two,” my former editor said.

Those were the last words I wanted to hear, especially since I had worked hard to be where I was. At that point, I had clocked in four years of working experience as a reporter, three of which was spent in a community newsroom writing about 100th birthdays and lost pets, but felt it was time to experience life as a hard news reporter.

I have always enjoyed reading and writing, so choosing a career in writing was an easy choice for me. By the time I was 12, I had my heart set on being a journalist. I started by writing short stories for my dad to read, and later wrote lengthy letters to pen-pals and friends. Writing got me through horrible days. It is my therapy, and I live for it.

When I was in high school, I chose journalism and English as two of my core subjects. I wrote everything from book reviews to reports on animal abuse for my school newspaper—sadly, only one article ever made it to my school’s newspaper. However, I was undeterred, and a story I read in a Times’ magazine on the treatment of women under the Taliban regime further cemented my desire to be a reporter. I wanted to shine a light on social injustices and human sufferings.

It was a journalism scholarship, with a year’s study and two years’ work in a newsroom, that secured my chance to be a reporter (my parents had wanted me to an accountant). I fastidiously went through the Pulitzer Prize list, reading award-winning stories, picturing myself covering in-depth stories for a big news organization such as the BBC, The Washington Post or The New York Times.

Therefore, once I had done about three years in a community newsroom, I decided if I were to one day report stories worthy of a prize, I’d have to move into a daily news environment.

When I first accepted the job in a daily news environment, I harbored hopes of being coached by senior reporters. I imagined my name listed on the annual media awards list for best feature story or best breaking news. I pictured covering stories on poverty, hunger, and struggles of the everyday person. I tacked the front page of The New York Times to my bedroom wall to keep my vision before me.

However, nothing like that came to pass. Instead, working life turned into a waking nightmare of painful meetings with my editors, battered self-confidence, and long evenings crying in cell group or alone in bed. Between being told that I wasn’t suited for a bigger newsroom (even though I thought I’d been doing a decent job covering different news stories), to being reprimanded for apparently overstepping a boundary in the way I handled a particular inquiry, to having all my grammatical or spelling mistakes magnified, I felt like a constant failure.

And any hope I had left was crushed that afternoon when my editor claimed my work was barely distinguishable from someone who wasn’t even a fully-fledged professional. Adding insult to injury, he also said I had only been hired to fill in the lack of ethnic minorities in the newsroom. It was as though the hard work I put in for other stories were forgotten.

I left his office with my tail between my legs, my emotions drained and my spirit broken.

Unwilling to let my superiors and my circumstances get the better of me, I hung on a little longer. It wasn’t until another reporter complained to my chief reporter about how she had to correct my mistakes on a daily basis that I realized I had to leave. What she was claiming was untrue and had the potential to damage my career.

By the time I resigned, I was completely broken and downtrodden. I swore I would never write again, and ignored all emails when a Christian organisation emailed to ask if I would contribute my writing skills.

I went into hiding for months, and refused to go near anything that resembled writing.

However, I was forced out of my hiding place when I attended my church’s annual leadership event. An American pastor, John Bevere, was the guest speaker.

He spoke on the Parable of The Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), about a master who had entrusted his servants with his property, and each were given talents according to their ability. While some of the servants used their talents wisely, one decided he would hide his. Needless to say, his master was very unhappy when he realised what his servant had done.

And what Pastor Bevere said next had me quaking: the master scolded the servant for being wicked, and took away his talent.

My heart went cold and I felt God’s voice booming right at me, saying the gift would not be returned once it was taken. I did not want to show up on Judgment Day only to have God tell me off for being a lazy, wicked servant. I promised God that I would no longer hide my gift.

The end of the sermon was the start of my venture back into writing. I emailed the Christian organization to say I’d be happy to contribute, and also contacted another organization to see how I could go about volunteering my writing skills.

Writing again has helped me overcome my insecurities of a failed writer. I was stunned when the first article I wrote for one of the organizations, a short 500-word piece, was declared ready to publish, without too many edits. Buoyed by the encouragement, I turned in my second piece, and by the third, was invited to join their panel of volunteer writers. I was especially delighted when my articles were translated to different languages for the organization’s various international sites. When I was a reporter, my sphere of influence was restricted to my local area, but I am now able to reach out to people in different countries.

While it’s not always easy giving up my weekends and evenings to write, I think of my articles touching the lives of readers who may be in need of a word of encouragement. Friends, even non-Christians, who read my articles online often said they felt they could relate my story, and a giant smile would spread across my face. It has also shown me that God is not done with my writing. While my journalism career may have gone up in smoke, God is able to use what is broken for His purpose.

My name may never be in the limelight. I may never win a Pulitzer Prize or any prestigious media awards, and I may never earn copious amounts of money as a writer. But I remind myself that I have been tasked by God to write and obeying Him carries a significance greater than any prize on earth.