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‘Avengers: Endgame’ shows us how to find purpose in our pasts

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.


Avengers: Endgame shows us how to find purpose in our pasts

Avengers: Endgame, the latest Marvel movie and a film eleven years in the making, is the most fun I’ve had at a theater in a long time.

The story picks up directly following the events of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War and spends the next three hours deftly weaving together a story that ties up the previous twenty-one movies while setting the stage for films yet to come.

Despite the long runtime, few scenes felt wasted, and it featured a healthy balance of comedy to go along with the drama and action. And, while having a general awareness of the previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would help, only the most basic plot points are necessary to understand the story.

I’m hesitant to say much more about the plot for fear of lessening the film for those who have yet to see it. As IGN’s Laura Prudom wrote, “Endgame is truly a story that needs to be experienced. Forget all the external noise from the deliberately vague teaser trailers, perfectly-calibrated celebrity soundbites, and footage leaks, and just strap in for the ride” (emphasis hers).

What I will say, though, is that what made the story so fulfilling was how the characters repeatedly lived up to their potential by embracing who they are rather than who they feel like they should be.

(Warning: Infinity War spoiler, even though it’s been out for a year): The Avengers’ journey to own and overcome the sense of failure evident among the survivors of “the snap” provides an honest and revealing canvas upon which their respective stories in Endgame can be painted.

That struggle is something I think all of us can relate to in some way.

After all, we typically have far more vivid memories of our failures than our successes, and the former frequently remain firmly implanted in our memories for far longer than the times when things went well.

Our spectacularly failed role models

One of my favorite aspects of the Bible is how no character outside of Jesus is portrayed as a perfect individual.

Daniel and Joseph likely come the closest, but even their lives testify to the fact that they are not without faults and failures. As a result, we have numerous examples of people who have failed—and failed spectacularly—only to repent and be used by God to accomplish truly amazing things.

What is often overlooked, however, is that the Lord seldom uses them until they’ve made peace with their past.

While Peter is far from the only example of this principle in action, his story illustrates it well.

He denied Christ three times, hours after swearing he would never do so and being willing to attack armed guards to prove the point (Luke 22:54–62). As the rooster crows, we can almost see the sense of utter failure on Peter’s face when he locks eyes with Jesus. Our hearts break with the disciple’s because we too know something of his pain.

While we may never have publicly denied Jesus, all of us have betrayed his legacy and commitment with how we’ve lived at one time or another. If our shame is any less than his in such moments, then we have a deeper problem.

Despite Peter’s failures, Christ later takes him aside to recommission him as an apostle. Yet, this only happens after Jesus has helped Peter own his moment of weakness.

Peter, for his part, seems quite willing to simply move on as though nothing had happened. He is delighted to see Jesus again and happily eats breakfast with him prior to this point in the story (John 21). Scripture never records him seeking out the Lord to apologize; Jesus has to initiate the conversation.

The hurt in Peter’s responses, however, makes clear that it is still a painful subject for him. Moreover, the Lord seems to know that Peter cannot live up to his potential until he’s owned that his failure is part of his story.

But it’s not the whole of his story either, and that is what we must remember as well.

Give your history to God

It’s human nature to try to explain away our shortcomings or act as though our failures are no longer a part of our lives. To an extent, that is necessary and right, as we should never define ourselves by our worst moments.

What God has forgiven is forgiven, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily done with it.

Part of the Lord’s redemption is often to use our mistakes to amplify our witness. When we own that our past is an integral part of who we are, then we give God license to use that past to help others.

There is a sense of freedom in such a perspective that is sorely lacking in our culture today. Far too many people fight against their past as if doing so will somehow make it disappear. The truth is, the only way to heal that hurt is by giving it new purpose, and we serve a God who excels at doing just that.

So, the next time you’re tempted to bury the hurt of past mistakes, choose instead to take them to God. Seek his forgiveness and embrace the redemption that comes from allowing him to use those flaws to help others.

The Avengers’ story is made better by what they had to overcome. Yours can be too.

Will you allow that to happen?