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Purpose Lost & Found: Gospel Reflections on GOTG 3 – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I delved into the impact of grief and trauma on our identity as a person living in a grief-filled world. In Part 2, I will address a similar theme: finding purpose in and after our suffering. Often in times of suffering (or even during times of ease) we can find ourselves looking with envy at other people’s lives, wondering why they seem so much happier than us. Perhaps we even think about the dreams and aspirations that we once held, but those dreams are now unrealized, or realized but proved to be unfulfilling. Both Christians and nonChristians alike see the necessity of having a purpose for life satisfaction. The atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is attributed with the line, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” While I would disagree with Nietzsche on many other things, I can agree with him here. When we come to understand that there is a purpose for our pain then we can endure even the most severe of sufferings. GOTG3 shows how each character’s story forges them through the fiery trial of loss, grief, and trauma in order to prepare them for the purpose of heroism in its different contexts. Like us, each of these characters has flaws and pains that convince them that they can’t be of any good to others. As you reflect on these characters, may you see God’s design in creating you with purpose, using both your skills and your sufferings to show off His handiwork and to bring good to others.

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

When asked about particular themes traced through the GOTG trilogy director James Gunn said that the first movie was about the Mother, the second about the Father, and this third movie about the Self. As seen throughout many of the Marvel heroes the path to heroism and selfless love comes through suffering.  What makes the GOTG franchises so compelling is the unpolished nature and obvious flaws of all these heroes. It speaks to something we tend to know inherently: I’m not perfect. In the midst of our imperfection and flaws we wonder if we’re okay…if we’re good. These characters are on a journey working through these issues, striving to get to a place of acceptance of who they are and throwing off the vestiges of identities placed upon them by grief and trauma.

While Rocket’s story arc most clearly shows this, it is Drax the Destroyer (played by Dave Bautista) whose arc resounded loudest. At the end of the movie, Drax and Nebula rescue several young girls created by the High Evolutionary, Drax being the one who communicates with and calms them before they are broken out of their cells. When we first met Drax in the first Guardians movie he was vengeful and grief-stricken because of the murder of his wife and daughter. He works through some of that grief by joining the Guardians and finding a new family. However, he is still dead set on killing the one (Thanos) responsible for killing his family. At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Thanos is dead so Drax is left without a true sense of purpose. That changes in the closing minutes of the movie. In rescuing the young girls, he tapped into a part of himself that he thought died with his daughter. Nebula tells Drax that she needs him to stay with him to take care of the girls saying, “You weren’t made to be a destroyer. You were made to be a dad”.  With tearful acceptance, the grief cycle ends for Drax when he steps into his truest identity: a father. Drax finds peace when he finds the little girls to care for as a dad. Though the suffering he endured at the hands of others caused great pain, we see in his life (like Rocket’s) that a greater purpose was being worked out in it. The same can be said of the other characters as well:

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

  • Nebula was abused by Thanos and torn apart in order to be a killer, but now she protects young girls and uses the strength to keep others safe from abusers. Nebula cares for the little girls in ways that she wishes she was cared for. 
  • Rocket is haunted by memories of his torture and loss, ambivalent about being in a group/family not wanting to risk more harm, but now he has shown mercy to his abuser and steps in as the new leader of the Guardians. He now has the family he longed for and was void of since the death of his friend Lylla. 
  • Adam Warlock was created to be an unbeatable superbeing, but is softened by the love of Guardians and becomes a compassionate caregiver to a pet, joining the Guardians after saving Quill’s life.  Adam is compassionate instead of vengeful;
  • Mantis’s identity was tied inseparably with that of Ego’s (see Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2) then to the Guardians, but now she has the courage to endeavor and discover who she is apart from others. Mantis seeks to find her identity apart from others, using the gifts and talents innate to how she was created and developed through experience.
  • Quill was longing for the family he’s lost throughout the course of the Infinity Saga.  In the first movie he loses his mom; in the second movie he finds and loses his dad….then loses his real father-figure, Yondu; then in Infinity War he loses Gamora. By the end of this movie he goes back to Missouri and is welcomed by his grandfather who was intended to be his caregiver after the death of his mom.  Peter forgets about his grandfather and is stuck in grief from Gamora’s death.

The story of redemption as shown in the Bible is echoed through the stories of these Guardians. Though not explicitly stated in this movie, the sense of a greater purpose and design working in and through all the life events of these characters sets the trajectory for the good they’ll do in the future. We have become accustomed to seeing Disney movies tell us to look deep within ourselves to see our true purpose, but Scripture tells us to look beyond ourselves. We look to our good Creator who made us in His image, unique amongst His creation…and very good. Sin has marred the image of God in us, but sin did not extinguish this image. So yes, we can look at our abilities, physical and mental make-up, and desires and say, “This is good.” But we also recognize that sin has brought separation from God and ourselves. This leads us to often hate the things God says are good. 

Photo Credit: Marvel Studios

In Christ we can come to a place of acceptance of all that we are as image bearers and redeemed sinners. We can thank God for the personalities, physiques, and various providences that have made us who we are. And we can have hope when faced with our imperfections, sins, and sorrows knowing that the Lord has directed all things for our good and His glory. He made us His workmanship ready to walk in the works He has prepared for us. After the disciple Peter denies Jesus, we find him back in his old ways, stuck in grief and regret. But our good God doesn’t allow us to stay stuck. Jesus moves towards him in love, restores and commissions to shepherd the flock. God calls us back to the purpose He had in the garden, to be representatives of His love and creativity as we tend the particular gardens with which we are placed.

Read Part 1: The Damage of Grief and Trauma on Identity & Part 3: The Benevolent Hands that Guide Malevolent Hands

Jake Thomas is a high school Pre-Engineering teacher and a graduate (MDiv. 2012) of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He and his wife, Tracy, live in Oklahoma City with their three children. They belong to The Vine Community Church where they serve as community group leaders and youth Sunday School teachers. Jake is an avid OKC Thunder fan, lover of all things sports (and Chick-fil-A), and a fan of Marvel movies.

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