Skip to main content

‘Iron Man’s’ change of heart

Well, last night my husband and I had our first date out in quite some time and we spent it at the movie theater watching Iron Man—and it was an excellent choice. The film is getting incredible reviews from critics (with 178 positive reviews out of 192 at Rotten Tomatoes—one of the highest ever for a superhero film) and with good reason. Robert Downey Jr. is spot-on as the change-of-heart (literally and figuratively) tycoon and genius inventor Tony Stark. The film balances heart, comedy and action in good proportion. The special effects are darn impressive. And—like most good comic book films—it has plenty of opportunities that make for good God-talk. And while there are more than enough elements in the film with the potential to draw out God-talk into open spaces, one aspect of the film resonated most with me: what happens when we have a change of heart.

In the beginning of the film, Stark is the driven and pretty much self-centered head of Stark Industries, which gets most of its money from inventing and selling weapons to the U.S. military. But when Stark makes a trip to Afghanistan, his military convoy is ambushed by a group of thugs using weapons Stark invented—and (as many critics have already picked up on) Stark has a change of heart. Not only is Stark’s heart physically wounded (he and a fellow prisoner have to invent a device to keep shrapnel from one of his own weapons from entering his heart and killing him) but it is also cut to the quick by the awful realization of his personal complicity and responsibility in the death and destruction his creations (which he’s released into the world with no accountability) have wrought on innocent and powerless people.

The experience of seeing this all first hand changes Stark—physically and morally. There’s a new power in his heart. Physically, the device not only keeps the shrapnel from getting into his heart and Stark from death, but also powers his heart indefinitely, making it stronger. This symbolizes and deepens the changes that have occurred in how Stark views the world and his place in it. He now wants to use his abilities and power to confront evil and make the world a better place—and the energy that powers his heart enables him to do so in ways he’s never dreamed of before.

I can’t help but think of Romans 8 when I contemplate this aspect of Stark’s change. “There’s a new power in operation,” Paul writes: “The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.” And “those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s spirit is in them—living and breathing God.” And “if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him . . . . It stands to reason, doesn't it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he'll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ's!” (1-2, 5-6, 9-11).

Jesus not only saves us from the bent that is within us that threatens to kill us (like the shrapnel shards in Stark’s body), but his Spirit fills us with new life and power. And this new life pulls and invites us to work with God in his relentless purpose and action to restore, redeem and bring his creation and creations back to Light, Love, and Life in ways we, like Stark, had not dreamed of before.

But this change of heart doesn’t come without its problems. Stark may escape and return to the world a changed man, but the world hasn’t changed at all. In fact, the system Stark unwittingly and carelessly helped to create has been marching forward. And when Stark starts to make decisions out of his new-found heart, that system—and the people literally and figuratively invested in it—push back in a big way.

This is a good image of the way it works in real life. When we have a change of heart and decide to walk in Light in a system that walks in Darkness, there most likely will be ramifications. “They kill us in cold blood because they hate you,” Paul reminds his readers. “We're sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.”

But that isn’t to discourage us, Paul says:

With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture . . . . None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (31-39).

Lastly, I couldn’t help but note that Stark can’t do what he does alone. This is particularly seen in his relationship with Pepper Potts, who literally and figuratively saves him—and his heart—more than once. Again, this is how it works in real life. Our change of heart—this new life and way of life we are saved to—is inexorably intertwined with the lives of others, not only those we reach out to but those who reach out to us. We need each other. We were meant to work together as a people with God. This is how we were created to be.

The film does have it’s flaws (see the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes or the one at Christianity Today for those and other insights), but I found Iron Man a refreshing and vibrant addition to the comic-book genre—and one that had more than enough God-talk to put it into these open spaces.

(Images: Paramount)