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Caught Off Guard: Thor and Forgiveness?
One of Jesus’ most famous teachings comes to us from Matthew’s Gospel, when Peter questions Jesus about the limits of forgiveness. “Peter … said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to 70 times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22)
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but one of the better representations of this tenet in recent film opened in theaters last weekend: Thor: The Dark World.
That’s right — Thor is my standout example of forgiveness.
Confused? I wouldn’t blame you if you were; the connection caught me off guard at first too. After all, when one thinks of Thor, compassion and forgiveness are not the first things that come to mind (most likely, the association is instead with lightning, sheer strength, and smashing things to bits with his trusty hammer, Mjolnir.) But when we take a closer look at Thor, specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the character as he is portrayed in Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World, a distinct pattern appears for the character. Throughout these films, and never more apparently than in Dark World, Thor continually strives to give his villainous brother Loki another chance, to bring him back into the family and stand side by side with him as brothers once again. Thor literally loves his enemy, as his goal is not to kill Loki or lock him away forever, but merely to bring back the brother he cares about so much. (Spoiler Alert: Plot descriptions of Thor and Avengers ahead.)
We meet Thor and Loki first in Marvel’s 2011 film Thor, where we learn that the two are not only brothers, but heirs to the crown of Asgard, a mythical kingdom that in classic Norse mythology is the dwelling place of the gods, but in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is simply out in space somewhere, part of the Nine Realms. Thor, as the older brother, is first in line and is in the midst of his coronation ceremony when the henchmen of jealous Loki interrupt the proceedings. When Thor reacts with immense violence, Odin decides that he is still too immature to take on the leadership of Asgard, and decides to retain the throne for himself a bit longer. Even though Loki schemes throughout the entire film, lies outright to Thor, and tries to prevent him from becoming king and undoing his wicked plan, in the end Thor still tries to save Loki, trying with all his might to raise his brother back up from a dangerous fall. But Loki lets go, allowing himself to plummet into space and convince all who witnessed his drop that he has died. As Thor reveals when they first meet in The Avengers, “I thought you dead … we all [mourned for you].” This sympathy, however, means nothing to Loki.
In The Avengers, Loki’s thirst for revenge has only grown, and this time he sets himself up against the fate of the entire planet in his bid for power both earthly and Asgardian. He threatens the whole human race, and yet still Thor cannot bring himself to see his brother as an evil man. He sees only the brother and friend with whom he has shared so many memories; he sees the potential for good in Loki. It’s how we get an exchange like this:
Thor: We were raised together, we played together, we fought together. Do you remember none of that?
Loki: I remember a shadow, living in the shade of your greatness. I remember you tossing me into an abyss, I who was and should be king!
Thor: So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights? No … you give up the Tesseract! You give up this pointless dream! You come home.
All that Thor wants is for Loki to return to Asgard and reclaim his rightful place in the royal family. Even after all of the threats and deception that Loki sets forth, Thor still forgives him, still welcomes him back with open arms. But instead, as we see by the end of The Avengers, Thor must bring his brother home in chains, a prisoner for his crimes instead of a repentant prince. For the destruction he wrought upon the earth, in Thor: The Dark World, Loki is sentenced by Odin to imprisonment in a dungeon for the rest of his life. But even this cannot stop Thor’s forgiveness and faith in him.
When a series of calamitous circumstances lead to Thor assembling a team to aid him in a dangerous quest, the thunderous hero looks to none other than his treacherous brother for help. As he recruits Loki, he reveals what we as an audience have seen all along: “You should know that when we fought each other in the past, I did so with a glimmer of hope that my brother was still in there somewhere.” Over the course of the quest, Thor places much trust in his brother, placing his life in Loki’s hands. In a pivotal moment, he even appears to forgive Loki once more for all the problems he has caused.
Truly here, as we have seen repeatedly in these films, Thor is following in Christ’s example by continuing to forgive Loki despite his sins. But forgiveness is not only for Christ and superheroes (or alien “gods,” depending on how you want to refer to Marvel’s Thor) — it is for each of us as well. Though it may not be easy for us to forgive those who have harmed us (sometimes again and again), we must strive to do our best to follow in Jesus’ path and do so. We each accept the forgiveness of God and others when we have done wrong; in turn we must extend this forgiveness to those who have wronged us. Everyone deserves a second chance. As far as whether or not Loki will ever take his, though … well, I think we might just have to wait until Thor 490 for that!