“You can solve the riddle of your heart.”– Nick Fury
We’ve discussed Iron Man 2‘s three major themes, and looked at the legacy of Howard Stark in previous posts, but I didn’t want to miss this little nugget. It’s not simply convenient that Iron Man’s heart is a focal point of this enduring comic book character, it’s an intentional metaphor that started beating years ago thanks to creator Stan Lee. From the tin man needing a ticker to the very essence of the human condition, these familiar and allegorical elements are why Iron Man has remained popular (even before a fast-talking Robert Downey Jr. adapted him for the masses). In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark finds himself slowly being poisoned by the arc reactor in his chest. The very same thing that saved him in the first flick is leading him to inevitable death, helping exacerbate his already manic personality. Later in the movie, a mysterious but helpful Nick Fury – playfully acted by Samuel L. Jackson – gives Stark tools that might help solve the problem, and he offers the fortune cookie wisdom above. The reformed theologian in me choked on this initially, but after thoughtful reflection the sentiment DOES have a place in a biblical understanding.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – Jeremiah 17
The first Iron Man movie clearly showed us a flawed character in Tony Stark, and how the damage and subsequent aid he received for his heart provoked more than merely physical change. What both films have struggled with, however, is HOW that change comes about. To the casual viewer, the “Oprah-esque” wisdom of Nick Fury can reinforce a bootstrap-mentality, the “physician healing himself”, the creature adjusting his own creation. Truth be told, Stark IS a genius, with scientific and artistic rabbits to pull out of his cerebral hat. This seems to fly in the face of Christianity’s wisdom, which emphatically states our hearts are possessed of a sin nature that cannot be remedied by our own ingenuity or merit.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36
In the worldview I hold dear and true, heart change is impossible without the work of God’s spirit, our Creator intervening in the life of fallen man. From the prophet Ezekiel to the words of Jesus, a first glance at Iron Man’s self-help method of answering the heart’s riddle seems to offer false hope to viewers. Still, even in the first film, two character’s actions were essential for Tony’s change and sustenance. Yinsen not only did the initial heart work, but laid down his life for Tony; later in the film, Pepper’s love and gift provided Tony the strength he needed to survive. Tony had a loving hand on each bootstrap, which at least implied that – if not God – it required community and sacrifice for our hearts to change. This film reinforces this again with Tony’s need for intervention and aid from Rhodey, who becomes War Machine.
However, in Iron Man 2 the metaphor goes far deeper for the discerning viewer. Once again, Tony CAN’T remedy his condition. Even when he explores his father’s belongings, he finds himself at a loss. It’s only when he’s broken, feeling defeated, hitting bottom – and the bottle – that the last bit of his dad’s film plays, and a message he didn’t expect comes from a loving patron from beyond. Father Stark essentially destined a solution for for Tony’s heart that pre-dated the actual condition. Tony finds some reconciliation with his dad, and understands exactly how his father provided for him in such a way as to be a blessing to the world.
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! – Ezekiel 18
It’s curious that the same prophetic book in the Bible expresses how God’s work changes our heart in chapters 11 and 36, but in the middle of this the prophet also emphasizes an element of our participation. While we don’t actually do the miraculous work that heals our heart and opens our eyes, the language of “making ourselves a new heart” DOES turn up… as the language of repentance… turning from the things that don’t satisfy and accepting the love and reconciliation from our Father in heaven, revealed by Jesus:
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them. – Matthew 13
Nick Fury’s words aren’t entirely wrong, but easily misunderstood. Tony’s life is restored and he’s able to overcome all obstacles because of this pivotal narrative moment, providing an intriguing parallel to speak about with those who assume the day is won through Stark’s spastic hyperactivity. We don’t have to keep metaphorically juggling chainsaws in life trying to remedy and satisfy our own heart; it’s not only foolish, but prideful.
Many times our story is like Tony’s: when we seem to have exhausted all options and have nowhere else to turn, our heavenly Father shows up and reveals the design that’s been there all along that we simply weren’t paying attention to, steps laid out in advance for us to walk in that renews our heart and restores a faith not possible without His intervention.