This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Andres: Love weighs what’s best

Infinity Wars, the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brings together multiple threads woven through many of the previous 19 films. It’s fun to watch the Avengers finally meet up with Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but one of the more thought-provoking ideas involves Thanos, a villain we’ve only caught glimpses of until now.

Carmen Andres

A titan tyrant whose home world was destroyed by overpopulation, Thanos has been collecting the infinity stones into a gauntlet, which will give him the power to destroy half the universe’s population in a twisted belief it will save the universe from the same fate. By the time we reach this film, even Gamora and Nebula — his adopted daughters whom he raised and pitted against each other — have banded together to stop him.

Some of the film’s key moments pivot on the relationship between the three of them.

In order to force Gamora to tell him of a stone’s location, Thanos tortures Nebula in front of her. Out of love for her sister, Gamora reveals where the stone is. The stone’s keeper offers it to Thanos but tells him he must sacrifice someone he loves. Gamora finds this extremely ironic because, as she tells Thanos, he doesn’t love anyone. But to her horror, Thanos, with tears running down his face, throws her off a cliff as his sacrifice to obtain the stone.

Unsurprisingly, critics found this scene disturbing on many levels, but one aspect really caught my attention.

On the science fiction website, Brandon O’Brien writes, “When you take away the Infinity Gauntlet and the extra body mass and the stone throne and the silly cosmic crusade, what you have left is a man saying that he killed a woman because he truly cared about her — and the universe rewarding him for doing so.”

“He doesn’t love Gamora,” agrees CinemaBlend’s Dirk Libbey. “It just so happens that whomever or whatever did require the sacrifice of a life to obtain the Soul Stone happened to have the same broken concept of love that Thanos did. . . . The fact that he thinks he loves Gamora shows how little he truly understands the concept.”

These critics help unpack the reality that a right understanding of love is crucial to our relationships and how a broken concept of love can hurt those around us.

What is the right understanding of love? Our culture defines it as an emotion — which helps understand how someone like Thanos mistakenly believes he loves his daughter.

In The Nature of Agape Love, however, Dallas Willard reminds us that love is not emotion or even an action: “It is not something you choose to do, but what you choose to be.”

Desire and feelings, says Willard, fall into the domain of impulse rather than choice. “They aim at their satisfaction, not at what is better and possibly best.”

Love, on the other hand, “considers alternatives and weighs what is best. If its vision is broad enough, it will find what is good and right. If it is surrendered to God, united with his will, it will be able to do what is best.”

And it’s not something “one turns on or off for this or that person or thing. Its orientation is toward life as a whole” with “a readiness to act in a certain way.”

What does that look like? Jesus said: “This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Lay down your life for your friends. If you love one another like this, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 15:11-15 and 13:34).

And that’s the kind of love that can save the universe.

Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.

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