It’s Season Four of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and we return to the religious themes in this sci-fi series. Here’s our previous writings:
- Original Sin in Agents of SHIELD
- Theology of Hell in Agents of SHIELD
- Theology of Justification in Agents of SHIELD
Science fiction is a great way to display and investigate ethical situations, but it also allows for religious themes as well. Click the above links for our previous discussions, and now we move onto Season Four.
Powers with Purpose?
In this point in the Marvel universe, a special substance that has spread all over the world through infected fish and gives special powers to random individuals. The plot device makes great TV with MOTW episodes (Monsters of the Week, ala X-Files). The powered individuals are called “Inhumans” which sounds more nefarious than they really are: they are mostly regular people who now have powers and have to make sense of how to use them.
The mid-season premiere has a Columbian woman who has developed super-fast powers, which she uses to fight corruption in her town and steal from the abusive authorities. The super-fast Elena is eventually captured by Agent Mack and his team, and they have this exchange:
Mack: You said your powers were a gift from God?
Mack: Here’s the thing. It’s not something I talk about but like you, I rely on my faith. And somehow I never made the connection until you said it, but maybe these powers, these gifts that you have…maybe they’re not random. Maybe it’s part of a plan.
Elena: I believe I have a duty, to use these gifts, to do better, to do good.
Mack: We believe the same thing.
The sentiment is not shared by the scientist Simmons, who sees the powers as random. After verbalizing this sentiment, an Inhuman on the Agents’ team named Lincoln responds with what he was taught:
Simmons: Inhuman powers are so random.
Lincoln: Powers aren’t random. We were taught that each is given to fill the evolutionary need at the time. To create equilibrium within the species. Yin Yang and all that.
Simmons: Huh. An actual intelligent design.
We can look back and see in a series of made-for-tv moments, the Inhuman powers were exactly what the team needed at the right moment. Even Andrew Gardner’s evil powers of killing Inhumans came in handy as he wiped out Hydra’s army of them before the grandaddy Inhuman came on the scene, weakening their possibilities.
So there’s a tension here of what to make of the powers. Are they designed to fill an evolutionary need, whether it comes from the top-down or side-to-side? Or are they random coincidences that merely respond to stimuli?
And what do we do with the idea for ourselves that we were made for a purpose? Or were we?
Plan v. Possibilities
The majority of the biblical record and contemporary Christian beliefs worldwide speak of God’s plan: that an infinite omniscient God has a plan for the world and moves everything in it towards fulfillment of that plan. Also called Providence, it means that everything happens for a reason to fulfill God’s goals for humanity and the world. This belief has many forms, but most believe that God is causing things to happen in some way.
In response, a minority viewpoint speaks of God’s possibilities: that an infinite omniscient God has a plan for the world. But here’s the key difference: rather than move everything towards that plan, God coaxes and encourages the world towards the best possibility for the world at every moment. A primary tenet of process theology, God encourages each moment towards its best possible future. When we choose that best possible future, then we are in-line with God’s hopes for us. When we do not, God continues to coax us, though the possibilities may be less than before. God does not cause events to happen, but guides humanity and creation to the best possible path ahead.
To this theological dialogue, we consider what Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is depicting:
- On one hand, they support Divine Plans by the way how each powered individual happens to be in the right place at the right time. It’s also reassuring to these characters that they have been cursed by these powers for a reason.
- But on the other hand, an individual like Elena already has the inclination to help her community (see screenshot above) and the powers now give her more possibilities to accomplish it.
It makes me wonder if Jesus, being fully divine but also fully human that he was, wondered about his divine powers. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks for reprieve from the anticipated violence and death ahead of him, but he accepts God’s Plan in the end. At the same time, Jesus changes his mind in response to the woman asking for more than crumbs from the table, recognizing that the possibilities for the woman were not being elevated by him denying a blessing.
We see this tension between divine plan and divine possibilities throughout Scripture, and even though the majority of Christians ascribe to some aspect of God’s plan, belief in God’s possibilities with less top-down control is a wholly valid interpretation of Scripture and Christian tradition, and for this blogger it solves a lot of theological problems.
Remember to click the links at the beginning to see the previous writings on this sci-fi series that has moments of theological clarity, and moments where I’m not sure what they are trying to say.