For a while now, I’ve been looking forward to seeing ‘Dr Strange’ in theaters for a number of reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason was the integration of Scott Derrickson serving as the director and one of the writers. I talk a little bit more about Derrickson here, but the short version is that he is a Christian who uses a secular medium (movies) to tell the Gospel story.
I know that ‘Dr Strange’ is going to be seen by a huge number of people. And that gives Christians and church leaders a great opportunity to have a common reference to discuss the Gospel with people who saw the movie. So I want to talk about a couple of places where I saw the Gospel in ‘Dr Strange’. Hopefully parents and church leaders can use this as a starting reference for discussions and conversations with their kids or non-Christians in their churches.
I have to warn you though, I cannot do so without spoiling the movie. So this is your [SPOILER WARNING]
“It’s not about you” – In one of the movies turning points, Dr Strange’s teacher/master/guru, The Ancient One, is dying. Through their magical powers, they have one last conversation together, where the teacher explains to Strange that his ego and pride have prevented him from learning the most important lesson about his journey thus far: None of this is about him. The journey, the magic, the powers – none of it is about Strange. He is a part of something astronomically bigger than him. He is simply playing a role in it.
It’s possible for people to make church or Christianity about themselves. Maybe they seek power through competition (“I’m a better Christian than _____”) or they serve in a leadership position for the prominence. Some people just use the church to feel better about themselves, without really ever embracing the call to die to self.
The Gospel of Christ, with all of it’s hope and grace for me, even me, ultimately isn’t about me. It’s about God. I’m just a part of it.
“She was complicated” – The movie does a good job of establishing the ‘rules’ of the world. The Ancient One explains that there are things that the heroes can’t or shouldn’t do because of their consequences. In particular, she clearly forbids messing with time or altering reality. Those are the rules, the ‘Natural Laws’. Following those make the good guys good and the bad guys bad.
Except they don’t.
Dr Strange and The Ancient One both break those rules in order to protect and save the world. Strange warps time, turning back the clock on several occasions. The Ancient One alters reality, breaking her own rules. She doesn’t play fair.
Neither does God. Christ broke the rules of time and death by coming out of the grave. God has broken the natural law by parting the Red Sea (Exodus 14), making it rain bread from heaven (Exodus 16) , and making the sun stand still (Joshua 10).
God is more complicated than we like.
The Danger of Rigidity – The Ancient One has another prominent student by the name of Baron Mordo, who is a close ally of Strange in the movie. He is a devout follower and student of the Ancient, who fiercely defends The Ancient One’s reputation when Strange questions her. Mordo is one of the most faithful good guys in the movie.
Until The Ancient One stopped playing by her own rules.
Once it became clear that Strange and her weren’t following the rules, Mordo’s world came apart. For him, it was about the order and structure, not about the overall reality. At the end of the movie, Mordo walks away from the path he had walked for years, because the rules he had put his faith in had been broken. He felt betrayed.
There was an interesting point in the movie where Mordo and Strange get into a heated discussion about The Ancient One’s willingness to break the rules. In it, Mordo expressed what I think is a common fear/concern for people who question God: “What if she had been corrupt?” In other words, if God is willing to break His own rules here, what’s to stop Him from doing it somewhere else? And sure, it was for a good reason now, but what about next time?
That doubt and question is the source of rigidity. Legalistic faith is the desire to control the uncontrollable.
“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain” – The climatic showdown of the movie is between Dr Strange and the personification of evil in the MCU, Dormammu. (Fun fact, they used the same actor for Dr Strange to model Dormammu, which I think is a brilliant way to highlight the potential for evil in each of us). Strange goes into Dormammu’s domain, the realm where he lives. And there Strange used his control of time to create an infinite loop, a ‘Groundhog Day’ like cycle of conversations with Dormammu. The loop prevented Dormammu from doing any more damage to earth, keeping evil essentially trapped confronting our hero endlessly. Toward the end of the showdown, Strange said something that summed up the Resurrection rather well: “I’m not your prisoner. You’re my hostage”.
There is a line in the Nicene Creed that describes what happened in between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection where it says that Christ “descended into death”. It can be controversial for some, but I think it explains the way Christ conquered death well. Christ confronted death, in it’s own domain, by choosing to endure the Cross. And in doing so, He saved the world.
Those are just a few of the ways I saw the Gospel of Christ in ‘Dr Strange’. There were plenty more. I hope you can use these as jumping off points for conversations with kids or movie fans.
And remember, I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.