As covered in our first two posts, Tony Stark is fraught with anxiety: he’s worked to reconcile his past and toils on a legacy for the future, but can’t rest in today. His misplaced identity is further confused by two ghosts from his past who come back to haunt him… but thankfully these are outnumbered by three people who help him remember his identity and place in the greater scheme of things. WARNING: this last post necessarily includes spoilers.
Iron Man reflects some great biblical concepts by showing us:
A Helper Suitable
A Faithful Friend
The Faith of a Child
Nothing in nature (or modern culture) says monogamy is a rule, but while Iron Man’s story might wink at his carousing, it ultimately treats Tony’s playboy life as something to be turned from. How old school! How… biblical. Pepper Potts served as Stark’s “helper” long before he chose to love her, even cleaning up his indiscretions. It took two films for him to commit, and as the story unfolds Tony admits she’s the only thing keeping him sane in his current predicament.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” – Genesis 2
If someone was designed to be a fit for Tony, it’s clearly Pepper Potts. The movie series makes it clear there is really no one else who can keep up with him, or stand up to him, except this smart and vivacious woman. Iron Man 3 gives her more than just opportunity to keep up, it gives her the opportunity to save him. Twice. She may serve in the role of helper, managing the “household” of Stark Industries, but it’s clear that she is his equal. (For the Bible students at home, “helper” is the term used for the Holy Spirit, a co-equal aspect of the truine God, so biblically this is no denigration).
This seems to be a big deal in Iron Man 3, and one I loved to see unfold. Tony, with all his ingenuity, and his many metal suits, clearly contributes in the battle against evil… and yet HE doesn’t save the day. Sure, he slows down Killian, but who delivers the killing blow? Pepper Potts. Tony has been losing sleep and having panic attacks that he can’t protect “the thing he cares about the most” and it turns out events unfold where she’s saving him.
Tony Stark is a man given new life, who contributes to the efforts in this final film, but he doesn’t stand out as the main figure who saves the day. And just to make it clear, the humility hits just keep on coming.
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24
James Rhodes has been Tony’s friend for a long time, but it’s clear that Stark doesn’t think of Rhodes as his equal. He doesn’t think he wants or needs help, and only reluctantly receives it in the back half of the second film. He isn’t even sure he wants Rhodey to keep the suit. In the final act of Iron Man 3, Rhodes is clearly skilled outside the metal suit and shoots better than Tony. In fact, while Stark runs around diving in and out of his 30+ armors for protection, who saves the POTUS (and takes out Extremis operatives) without armor? Not only does Pepper Potts defeat the “big bad”, but the big rescue of our Commander-in-chief is not Iron Man, but the faithful friend who sticks closer than a brother.
If victory was contingent upon a lone, self-capable Tony Stark, that’s two strikes. And while we’re at it…
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:17
Jesus wasn’t talking about defeating Extremis-enhanced badguys when he explained this, but he was making a point about how growing older commonly retards our understanding of God, each other, and ourselves. Knowledge puffs up, pride corrupts, and wisdom becomes worldly. We lose our identity in God, and our place in the universe. In this case, Tony finds himself in Hicksville, USA, suffering more panic attacks and questioning his ability to solve anything. Pep talks with a spunky kid refuel his hope, rekindle his imagination, and make Stark face his fears, reminding him who he is.
Not only that, but when he faces operatives in the bar and down the street, it takes the child’s snowball to stop Tony from being gunned down, and then the boy’s intervention again with a flash grenade to provide the opening Stark needs. A little boy becomes as essential to the fight as the billionaire, genius, iron avenger.
Whereas he needed some “assists” from others in the prior films, this time Tony’s life, the President’s life, and “the day” is clearly saved by others. The weight of the world does NOT rest on Tony Stark. Iron Man is not Superman, and this realization is part of what allows him to make a break with the armored suits, and even the ARC reactor, and commit more fully to the one he loves (although let’s be clear: he’s WAY past due putting a ring on that finger).
Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 9:9
The Christian life is where the heroic fairy tale (and an inspirational story like Iron Man) becomes truth, fully realized. We’re given a new heart, our warped identities restored to factory settings, equipped with spiritual armor to forge ahead and face life’s dragons. Over time, the spiritual shrapnel in our chest and surrounding relationships are reconciled and sanctified. However, this isn’t the story of a solo knight riding forth; as we glimpse in Iron Man 3, this story involves a community (Christians call it the church: spouses, spiritual “siblings”, brothers and sisters who are co-equal co-laborers, sharing in the triumphs of the day and recognizing the ultimate victory belongs to our shared savior).
Tony describes the armor as a “cocoon”… the idea that he’d been reborn but protected, transforming over time. It’s not a bad analogy for the “now and not yet” aspect of Christian transformation, that we’re being protected and conformed to the image and likeness of our savior. At the end, Stark is appropriately dressed in white, his old home and all the symbols of his life before cast down, his healed heart ready to start a new life in a new kingdom.
On the days we lose heart, letting worry and adult-onset anxiety flood our soul, we need to remember the hope and faith and wonder of a child, trusting that our God – like a billionaire benefactor – is preparing a better house for us to come home to.