Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played the title character in the Oscar-winning film Black Panther, died last Friday at the age of forty-three.
Boseman drew accolades for his depictions of Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, and James Brown. He died on the fifty-seventh anniversary of the March on Washington and the day baseball honored Jackie Robinson.
In his memory, ABC showed Black Panther commercial-free last night. I watched the marvelous film again as well as the tribute show to Boseman that followed. One person said of him, “He played icons and now has become an icon himself, and his legacy is one for the ages.”
Why Chadwick Boseman died and what he believed
The tweet announcing Boseman’s death is now the most liked tweet of all time. In it, his family reported: “Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV.”
He filmed Black Panther in 2018, reprising the role in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame (the latter became the highest-grossing movie of all time). He starred last year in 21 Bridges and then in the Netflix war drama Da 5 Bloods. We now know that he made each of these movies, as his family stated, “during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”
Chadwick Boseman died of cancer, but he died in faith.
Rev. Samuel Neely, the pastor who baptized Boseman as a child, said the arts were always part of his life, singing in the church choir and producing plays in high school. According to Rev. Neely, Boseman continued to live out his faith as an adult.
In explaining Jackie Robinson’s remarkable courage, Boseman quoted the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–23) and said, “I feel like it’s because he had God in him that he was able to make it through this.”
In a speech last year, Boseman thanked actor Denzel Washington for providing a scholarship that enabled him to study one summer at Oxford University. He ended with this benediction: “May God bless you exceedingly and abundantly more in what’s in store than he ever has before” (paraphrasing Ephesians 3:20).
Two reasons “social proof” is so powerful
When well-known people endorse a product or position, they lend it their credibility. This is known in advertising as “social proof.” We care what celebrities think for two related reasons.
One is called “informational social influence.” When we are not sure of the correct way to behave, we seek clues from the decisions of those we admire or trust.
The other reason is called “normative social influence.” As social beings, we seek to fit in with others. When a celebrity endorses a product or decision, we are likely to follow their lead so as to be accepted by those whom they influence.
The Holy Spirit uses both means of influence to advance God’s kingdom.
Daniel’s wisdom and courage in the lions’ den led the king to recognize the greatness of Daniel’s God. The king then decreed that “in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel” (Daniel 6:26). Likewise, Peter’s status as leader of the apostles (John 21:15–19) undoubtedly helped persuade Jewish Christians that the Gentiles with whom Peter shared the gospel were accepted by God (cf. Acts 11:1–18).
It is vital to identify and employ our influence for God’s glory. Others are watching you today. If you will trust Jesus in hard times and love those who do not love you, your impact will be far greater than you may know. Your witness is “social proof” for the gospel.
Boseman on the power of purpose
While we should employ social proof to influence others, we should beware of its influence in our lives. What matters most is not what others think but what our Lord says. If Chadwick Boseman had been an atheist, his unbelief would have made Christianity no less true. The fact that celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz is a Muslim does not make Islam true.
It is vital that you and I define and follow God’s unique purpose for us, whether others agree or not. This is a commitment Chadwick Boseman embraced and encouraged.
In his 2018 commencement address at his alma mater, Howard University, Bozeman quoted Jeremiah 29:11, which states: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
He then said, “Graduating class, hear me well on this day . . . You would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. . . . The struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
He added: “When God has something for you, it doesn’t matter who stands against it. God will move someone who is holding you back away from a door and put someone there who will open it for you if it’s meant for you. . . . If you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory, then you will not regret it.”
The “two great days” in your life
Chadwick Boseman’s death came too soon. But not before he discovered his purpose in life.
Biblical scholar William Barclay noted, “There are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we discover why.”
Has the second “great day” come for you?