In all honesty I had no idea what to expect from the movie Black Panther. I’ve been an avid Marvel and D.C Comics fan my whole life (Marvel is obvously better, just saying). However, there was something different about Black Panther. I couldn’t describe the feelings that were developing inside my heart but all I could communicate was that this was an important moment. It was a moment that would help to expose the great need inside the human heart of so many people. That need would be different and truthfully, incredibly complex. For my family, it would be the need to see a super hero who was the main character that looked like them. My middle son, Levi; when I took him to see the movie said in the first 10 minutes, “Dadda, Black Panther kind of looks like us! I don’t like Captain America anymore, I’m going to be Black Panther!”. Levi is five years old, and at five he was already connecting dots that I was still trying to reconcile in my own heart.
As I watched the movie (2x) I began to see similarities that I never expected to see. There were the obvious similarities and comparisons between the characters, the country, and our current cultural and religious context, but then there was something deeper, more important, and incredibly theological in nature.
The entire narrative of Black Panther revolved around this hidden super tech country, paradise, or a type of Eden – Wakanda.
The Big What If?
I’m going to take us on a “what if” journey. There is no truth to this and it is all a hypothetical exercise, but if you’re still reading I’d love for you to go on this journey with me. Let’s go back to Genesis 3, we know the story. Adam and Eve sin, they are sent out of the Garden of Eden. Eden is locked up and kept separate from humanity so that no one could return and eat of the precious fruit in the Garden and receive knowledge and eternal life. What if after the departure God restarted Eden, and created a new humanity to enjoy the perfection of the land and His perfect presence? What if Eden, (like Wakanda) became a type of paradise with so much to offer, all the while hidden to the rest of humanity; which was experiencing the affects of sin in a broken, falling apart world filled with pain and suffering. What if those in Eden could do something about it, but chose not to because of fear of what would happen just as W’kabi voiced:
“If you let the refuges in, they bring their problems with them and Wakanda becomes like everyone else”.
The Problem with Wakanda
The pit in my stomach watching Black Panther was the problem with Wakanda. For centuries they lived in light of their fear, hidden in a cocoon of protection while the rest of humanity slowly decayed towards self destruction (think about the opening scenes of the movie). The question that came up over and over is in regards to how Wakanda could continue to live and thrive hidden from the world while so many of their people had suffered tremendous loss. Where was the responsibility of Wakanda for humanity? Instead of dispatching ambassadors to better the world their military strategy was to place “war dogs” in every country not for the good of those countries or people, but for their own good and as spies to protect themselves.
The deep rooted sin of “Wakandan first” thinking bore fruit in the most horrific way. The abandoning of one of their own all to maintain a lie.
Eventually the Black Panther sees the error of his and his forefathers ways. He first experiences it as he saves the American CIA agent, “We can not just let him die knowing we can help him”. Finally, there is a responsibility to be an agent of change in a world that is desperate for rescue.
What if Eden was Actually Not Fully lost?
Let’s go back to that hypothetical journey to Eden. What if the scriptures actually point us to a reality where Eden is not actually fully lost to us now? We know that Eden serves as a “type” or image, and reflection of Heaven and the Kingdom of God. Jesus in the New Testament often refers to the Kingdom of Heaven and as he teaches his disciples how to pray he instructs them and says, “your Kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In other words, the Kingdom of Heaven (a type of Eden) will eventually invade the earthly reality as Christ restores and redeems all things. All of this began on the day of the resurrection (John 20). The reality of the Kingdom of God invading dark and broken places was made possible through the empowerment of believers with the indwelling Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2). Therefore, we have become citizens of a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God and in 2nd Corinthians 5 we are called “ambassadors” of Christ. That Christ would make His appeal to a broken humanity in and through us. So, we are the chosen agents of God, set apart for a specific purpose; called to declare the glorious truth of the Gospel and proclaim the goodness of Christ and His finished work on the cross.
What made Wakanda so special? It was the Vibranium that it was built on. What made Eden so special? The presence of God. It was because Eden was where Adam and Eve could experience the perfect presence of God and live in perfect harmony with their creator. Today, we have received the promise of His presence in the deposit of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Therefore, we have a responsibility to be the Ambassadors that the Lord intended for us to be.
It’s interesting to note that in the ancient near east ambassadors of a king had a special privilege. They were sent even onto enemy territory and because of their status as “ambassador” they could not be harmed. In a technical sense, where they went, the power and authority of the king went.
As ambassadors of the greatest King, the King of Kings, we carry His authority and power. Where we go, the Kingdom goes. We can’t live in fear. Because our fear will lead us to selfish actions such as refusing refugees in fear that they will bring their problems. Jesus as a baby was a refugee and hid in Egypt (Matthew 2:13). The Kingdom of God is made up of refugees, who are all in need of restoration and rescue.
There is something so much better than Wakanda for us to proclaim. As ambassadors of Christ, let us live a life worthy of the Gospel and work towards the fulfillment of the great commission and the rescue and restoration of a broken humanity through the transformative power of the Gospel.
In other words, we have to move from #WakandanFirst thinking to #KingdomOfGodFirst thinking and living.
Additional Black Panther Articles I’ve Found Helpful:
- Black Panther and the Longing for Home – Gospel Coalition
- What Black Panther Means for Christianity – Christianity Today