Thor: The Dark World rolled into American theaters this Friday, and it’s pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect from Marvel superhero movies: big, fun and a little silly. One does not expect a lot of complexity from a film whose main character wins arguments with, quite literally, a big hammer. Nor would one expect to find much Christian faith in a film whose heroes and villains were plucked straight from Norse pagan mythology.
And yet, when we look at the story of Marvel’s odd-couple brothers, Thor and Loki, I’m reminded of a couple of other brothers who had their own problems.
Thor, of course, is our hero: Played by Chris Hemsworth, he’s big and blond and ever-so-heroic. Loki (the scene-stealing Tom Hiddleston) is Thor’s opposite in almost every possible way. Thor’s strong and straightforward, Loki’s smart and sneaky. Thor looks like—well, a god; Loki looks more like an English teacher. Loki is oil to Thor’s water, moon to Thor’s sun, Nicki Minaj to Thor’s Mariah Carey.
It’s hard to imagine two brothers more different, really. But then again, they’re not really brothers.
We learn in the first Thor movie that Loki is actually a frost giant, rescued as a baby from certain death by Thor’s father, Odin, and raised as his own. And when Loki realizes that he’s been adopted, it changes everything for him: He feels like an outsider—separated from the family and Odin’s love (even though in truth he and mother Frigga love him a great deal). From that point on, Loki breaks bad and, for two movies, causes no end of mischief.
If you stripped away the armor and magic, this picture of familial strife would fit comfortably in the Bible, the pages of which are full of quarrelsome siblings: Jacob, who stole the birthright and blessing of his brother, Esau. Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. And then, of course, you have the first brothers ever—Cain and Abel.
Cain and Abel, like Thor and Loki, both sought their Father’s love. They offered God gifts, hoping to win His favor. The Bible, we’re told, “looked with favor on Abel and his offering,” apparently because Abel gave God the best of what he had. That made Cain very angry, which triggered this response from God Himself.
“Why are you angry?” God said. “Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Most of us know what happened, though. Sin did master Cain, and he killed his brother.
It seems to me that Loki and Cain have a lot in common. Both felt as though their respective fathers (both heavenly fathers, in a manner of speaking) didn’t love them. Not as much as their blessed brothers, anyway. Both grew jealous and bitter. And when Loki’s anger began to fester, God’s words could’ve been spoken to him, too.
Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.
Both were eventually cast out, as it were. And yet, they are still loved—and still family, in a way. Cain is punished, but God marks him, too, ensuring his survival. And while Loki falls out of Odin’s good graces, he’s offered many opportunities to return to the Asgardian fold.
Loki is both villain and tragic character in the Thor movies. In both films, we see his anger and pain, and we, like Thor, sense the goodness still hiding inside him. Sometimes it comes out: In Thor: The Dark World, Thor and Loki join forces for a time, and Loki earns a measure of redemption. And yet he can’t fully accept the grace held out to him. In movie after movie, Thor has asked Loki to reject his evil ways—to return to the loving arms of his family. But Loki can’t and won’t. His seat at the table is still there, but he refuses to take it.
Perhaps he’s so convinced that he is the frost troll of his birth—that he is, at his core, bad—he can no longer believe that he can be good. He sees what he is, not what he could be.
For all of Thor’s heroic traits, Loki is a far more compelling character for most of us. And I think that might be because we understand his struggle. Like Loki, we’re all fallen creatures—broken and misshapen and not at all what God would like us to be. It’s not all our fault, of course: Sin and brokenness are inescapable in this fallen world. God understands that, and He holds His hand out to us, anyway. All we need do is call Him father, and we become his sons and daughters. He offers us grace and forgiveness for whatever we might’ve done.
And yet, it still can be hard to accept that hand. Often we reject it for all the same reasons that Loki does: Our pride gets in our way. Our anger makes it impossible to reach out to Him. And sometimes, we can convince ourselves that we are unforgiveable—too horrible to ever really be a part of God’s family.
Some theologians might say that we’re all descended from Cain: We have Abel’s blood on our hands. When I realize how stubborn I can be—how petty and bitter and how resistant I am to anyone who might try to help me—the analogy feels frighteningly right.
I see a lot of Loki in me—more Loki than Thor, that’s for sure. I’m a disappointment in so many ways. And I pray that I always have the sense to hold onto God’s hand in spite of it.