I wrote the following article back in November when Thor: Ragnarok was a new film. Now with Avengers: Infinity War being released last month, I figured I might as well post it:
Man has long made use of the visual to describe, or rather depict, what heaven will be like. Heaven, gods, and angels have often been the subject of choice for painters and artists throughout the centuries. It is no different than what we find today. Movies abound with visual displays of heavenly worlds in overt attempts to intrigue viewers about the spiritual. Films such as Highway to Heaven and City of Angels, and even children’s films like Mulan all depict concepts of the supernatural in blatant ways. However, there are other films that also point to heaven in a more subtle manner.
Marvel’s Thor films are loosely based on the Norse mythology of the northern Germanic people groups of the Middle Ages. Thor, Loki, Odin, and even Odin’s Raven (in addition to their powers and personalities) each have their roots in the stories of the gods from the time when Vikings roamed the earth. It is easily foreseeable how the Thor movies, then, suggest spiritual reality purely because of their rich historical meaning. However, with the increasingly impressive abilities of modern movie-making technology, Marvel’s cinematic displays are doing more than merely telling the story of ancient myths. They are visually showing them as if they were true in our world.
Many Christians hold the notion that nothing beneficial can be gained from studying (or in our case, watching) stories of Norse mythology, Greek mythology, or fairytales of any kind. Some would even prefer to say that such dabbling with myths and legends may prove detrimental to faith in the God of the Bible. But this view fails to see the value there is in gleaming virtue from stories – not to mention that much of Christian history is in disagreement with this view. Clyde S. Kilby commented on Christianity’s failure to value storytelling: “As to the evangelical’s skittishness toward imagination, I have looked into the Scriptures and I cannot find such a prejudice there.” Vigen Guroian, when speaking on the moral imagination, mentions that “Fairy tales lead us toward a belief in something that, if it were not also so veiled in a mystery, common sense alone would affirm…” Consider what Madeleine L’Engle says about this topic as well: “Stories, no matter how simple, can be vehicles of truth, can be, in fact, icons.” Not to mention the fictional giants who were behind Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia were also in support of using fictional stories to convey spiritual truth.
While the films about Thor speak to Norse spiritual belief, I find that they also contain a deeper truth, much like these quotes suggest. They are pointing toward a spiritual existence, not as the Vikings tell it, but as the Bible tells it. In particular, the film Thor: Ragnarok has much to offer when considering the book of Revelation.
In the film, the long Bifröst Bridge shines as light and glass and color surge throughout it while the crystal clear waters below spray and crash. It is not hard to see such a scene and think about Revelation’s reference to a “sea of glass.” Or consider Revelation’s reference to “gates of pearl” – it becomes a lot less difficult to visualize when watching Asgard’s scenery in Ragnarok. Even the widespread use of gold on Asgard seems to directly correlate to Revelation’s mention of gold in heaven, gold that is “clear as crystal.”
Many Christians believe that the imagery in Revelation merely suggests symbolical meaning rather than specify literal descriptions. That may be true, but perhaps that’s not all of the truth. Maybe the roads really will be made of gold, the gates really will be solid pearl, and the sea really will (somehow) be glass.
Still, more than a new visual perspective on Revelation can be gleaned from Ragnarok. One could even begin to see hints of what life will be like in heaven. To be true, Revelation’s actual descriptions of everyday life in heaven are scarce. ‘Just what will we do there?’ and ‘What will life look like?’ are common questions for anyone who thinks about existence in the afterlife. While the Bible does not share much detail, we can gather some key points about what a believer’s role will be like in heaven.
Revelation tells us that Christians will “rule and reign with Christ” and Paul even said that “we shall judge angels.” This suggests that believers will operate in some authoritative or imperial capacity in heaven. Yet this is something that has always puzzled me. If evil and its members have been subdued, why would there be a need for princes and princesses to rule? Wouldn’t there be perfect harmony among all of heaven’s beings? It was after I watched Ragnarok that passages like this began to make more sense. All along I had a mistaken understanding of royalty. For centuries royalty is something that has been conferred from person to person by a formal process. This made me think that royalty equated to authority but that was not the point of the process then nor will it be in heaven. Though there was a process to present royalty, the substance behind it was in something deeper. It was not in title or position – it was in the blood. One’s bloodline is what determined one’s rank among the nobility. Interestingly, this is exactly what one sees when watching Ragnarok. The people of Asgard are gods because of who they are, not because of where they dwell or the titles they hold. They are a special race of people – they have special blood. Instantly I realized that it is the same way in heaven. We will be grafted into the royalty because of a bloodline, and not just any bloodline but a particular bloodline, the bloodline that was made available through Christ, the bloodline that extends back to the dawn of creation itself.
With Christ’s blood, we become heirs of God. We stand as joint heirs with Christ (see Romans 8:17). With this mindset (and this cinematic representation) one can receive a new perspective on his or her nobility under heaven. In the film, the people of Asgard have mutual respect, honor, and devotion toward one another. Aside from troubled main characters (Hella and Loki), the citizenry do not try to usurp power or manipulate one another. They are each Asgardians and, as such, have veneration for each other as well. This kind of honor for one another brings to mind a passage from The Weight of Glory in which C.S. Lewis states, “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
A final aspect of Ragnarok that bears a similarity of the Book of Revelation is the idea of the prophetic. The movie essentially concerns an end time prophecy about the realm of Asgard. In fact, the very term “Ragnarök” is the Norse mythological term for the series of end time events that result in the destruction of the world and the death of numerous gods. The depiction of these events in the film, however,
The movie ends with the Asgardians fleeing in a spaceship as their world is destroyed by Surtur, a giant fire demon. In essence, the story resolves as Thor comes to recognize that Asgard is a people, not a place. And so the people of Asgard leave their heavenly realm in peace.
In Christianity, the tale is modified. According to the Bible, the earth (the fallen world) will be destroyed by fire as the saints (the royal people) are entered into heaven. In a word, our story will end, or, more accurately, our prophetic fulfillment comes when we step foot in the heavenly world – not when the last foot departs it. And as the Asgardians departed in the sky to safety as heaven is destroyed, we shall look up and see safety approaching us as heaven comes down from above.