Thanos and The Problem of Evil (comments on the movie Infinity Wars)

I had the recent opportunity of going to see the movie Infinity War, the newest release by Marvel Studios. I must admit that, as a young Jewish kid on the bookish side, and not that athletic, I collected Marvel comics. Stan Lee and his career has not been unknown to me. Seeing some of the comic book heroes that I read as young boy coming to the film screen, and having my children come to know them, has been quite the experience. The purpose of this blog is not to comment on the entire movie, but rather to deal with a curious question that is brought out in the film.

 Infinity War raises the problem of pain and suffering, or as theologians, apologists, and philosophers would name it - “the problem of evil.” The main antagonist carries as his name the Greek word for death: Thanos. He seeks to implement a certain solution to pain and suffering in the universe - to kill half the population throughout the universe so that more resources may be available to the survivors. This, in his mind, will provide a better level of living, and diminish pain and suffering. He states very clearly that it is a simple issue of mathematics. Thanos originally proposed this idea for his home planet, but was rejected. Let’s briefly examine the nature of Thanos’ solution, the distinction between God’s character and that of Thanos in consideration of his solution, and the inherent wrong in the solution proposed by this antagonist.

This particular villain’s solution is based on Darwinistic and naturalistic premises - not in the sense of “survival of the fittest,” but in the assumption of a closed material universe being all that is available. Thanos assumes that there are a limited number of resource. Thus, decreasing the surplus population (one way of phrasing it) is the only viable solution for a higher standard of living. He does not consider a benevolent creator who can intervene or provide other solutions. In fact, the movie gives the back-story of the Infinity Stones (which Thanos needs in order to implement his solution) in terms of a naturalistic, Big Bang model of how the universe began. If it were true that the universe was finite, with limited resources and no means by which the present, or even a growing population could enjoy a life without pain and suffering, it does follow that the villain’s assumption almost makes sense. However, Hollywood has not reckoned on the fact that we have a Creator God who intervenes in His universe and, either through showing us better ways to handle resources or through direct intervention, can change the situation. In other words, if one buys into the false assumptions of a materialistic, Darwinistic universe, one could very well get to the solution at which Thanos arrives.

Is his solution at all representative of the fact that God allows pain and suffering in the universe for a higher end? Someone might argue that, if I say that God allows pain and suffering for the greater good, it is the exact same things that Thanos does. Such a comparison is a faulty comparison and must be debunked. First, Thanos is not permitting destruction and death - he is directly creating it. Additionally, he is visiting it upon individuals who do not demonstrate an immediate warrant for judgment. In other words, he is visiting death upon innocent individuals, not simply permitting death to occur. God is never the author of evil. When He does indeed permit evil to happen, the deed is carried out by agents other than Himself. Second, when God permits evil, He is permitting that which is contrary to His desire and will. He is not Himself instigating the evil for a higher good - He is simply permitting evil, which would already occur in a fallen universe, to work towards a positive end.

More importantly, there is something deeply neglected in any analogy between the behavior of Thanos and the behavior of God, which is two-fold. Let me introduce the first part with the following idea: do not break that which you cannot make. Thanos is taking lives that he did not create. Therefore it is not a matter of him sovereignly controlling that which is rightly his, but of him taking the life from beings whom he has no right to at all. The second part to the reason that no analogy can be drawn between the behavior of Thanos and that of God is that,  as rightly pointed out and wrongly disputed in the film, Thanos loves nobody. He does not personally suffer in any way to bring about the solution for the pain and suffering that he sees. God, on the other hand, came and died to deal with the pain and suffering of our world. He is deeply touched by our pain and infirmities, to the point that He took personal action to deal with them,a costly action which required great sacrifice. Thus we have a contrast between Thanos and God: Thanos takes a life and sacrifices nothing; God allows pain and suffering in the universe and sacrificed everything.

Thanos’ solution is wrong on many levels. It assumes a closed universe, which is not the case, and if it were, his solution would offer no hope ultimately in avoiding the problem of pain. It ignores the fact that pain is the result of rebellion on the part of creatures who been given the beautiful gift of freedom and have misused it, which hypothetically would include Thanos himself. Thanos is part of the reason that there is pain and suffering in the universe, even as he is enacting his solution to remove it. This is a clear contradiction. Finally, it offers no redemption, only extermination. What we find in a Biblical worldview is a God who deeply feels our pain, suffers along with us, and made us. The naturalistic worldview which Hollywood offers provides no lasting solutions because in a universe that is closed, in which no rescue is possible, no solution is possible.