Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Tony Stark is a man of many parts - literally and figuratively. Whenever I break this character down, I find an incredibly deep personality. I’d daresay he’s possibly the most complex member of the Avengers, yet out of all of his traits, it’s his unending quest for self-improvement that grabs my attention most. Stories about arrogant hotshots receiving the wake-up call of their billion dollar lifetime is always a popular tale. It’s cathartic when they eat humble pie. It’s equally heartwarming when they clean up their act, yet Tony’s personal journey, to me, happens to be one of the best conceived and well executed transformations in fiction. Not because his transition was the smoothest, the quickest, or cleanest. Oh no. Quite the opposite. It’s because of its roughness that it stands out. You see, his story really captures an aspect of transformation better than most . . . how gosh darn hard it is to reset and start over.
As a brilliant weapons contractor, Tony was living large. He had fame, fortune, talent, and blatant disregard for anything that intruded his wild lifestyle. He used everyone and respected no one. That is until terrorists kidnap him. Suddenly, this man of privilege and control had zero control. He got blasted by one of his own weapons. He needed another prisoner to stay alive. Even his own heart needed to be attached to a car battery just to keep it beating. Tony, of course, builds his first Iron Man suit to escape that cave, but after seeing the results of his irresponsibility (the fact that his creations were being sold to whoever, wherever) he wasn’t the old Tony Stark anymore. A piece of him died. Gone was the genius playboy with no thought for consequence. Out emerged a hero who’s practically haunted by it. All because his life goals were altered.
However, a change in life goals doesn’t mean one’s behavior also alters quite so swiftly, and this is what I think is so brilliant on the MCU writers’ part. It’d be easy to turn rowdy Tony into a genteel nice guy - a simplistic move yet serviceable. However, they took a ‘slow burn’ approach to his development that’s far more interesting and relatable. Tony’s outlook did indeed flip, but the way he interacted socially remained largely the same. He’s still cocky. He isn’t the most tactful. There are even times when he backslides into old habits. However, as the movies continue, subtle improvements sneak in that are easy to miss. He starts giving others more credit. He displays a caring side (in his own way) and begins including kinder words between his snarky quips more often. What impresses me most, though, is how gradual it all is. It’s so gradual in fact, that it’s near undetectable. It only really struck me how much he changed after I compared the ‘him’ from the first Iron Man to the ‘him’ in Endgame. There’s a huge gap. It’s almost like they’re two different people, and it mostly happened without my noticing! (That is fantastic character writing right there!)
Then, as I pondered Tony’s transformation, I realized something else. Iron Man and Christians share a lot in common. Think about it. His new beginning mirrors ours. First, you got broken down and forced to acknowledge your helplessness to sin. Then, just like the arc reactor Tony invents to replace his car battery, we needed a spiritual heart transplant - one that only Christ could perform. Then after our asking, Jesus changes our hearts and our life goals. Our days are no longer about ourselves. It’s about God and others. Then a new start begins and so does the struggle too. And that’s what I love about Tony’s story so much.
Some redemption arcs are written too swift and drastic. Now, that’s not a bad thing. I still like them. Transformation can be very quick as well, but let’s be real here. An instant night and day shift in any person is uncommon, isn’t it. Consider your own worst habit. Don’t you still fall into it daily? I know I do (from my temper to my nail biting). It’s aggravating to find ourselves repeating old offenses. Similarly, there were plenty of times I rolled my eyes at Tony’s ill-behavior and bad choices. But don’t we all get frustrated with other Christians the same way too? I’ll admit. For a person reborn by grace, I tended to expect too much out of others and myself. I often rudely spat nails at people for their wrong actions. The thing is, we may be redeemed. However, one’s sin nature isn’t amputated overnight, and I’ve had to learn patience for my and others’ failings the hard way - more than once. Even Apostle Paul admitted, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15) Yet despite the apparent lack or loss of progress, Christ’s transformative power is greater than any failure on our part. He’s still growing us anew. Yes, growing pains are inevitable. Still, we grow.
To me, Iron Man and Captain America are opposite sides of the same coin. One man embodies the desired results of transformation and the weight that comes with it. The other embodies the nitty-gritty struggle for transformation. Steve Rogers is the man we want to be and should be. Tony Stark is the man we were or currently are. Change is a process. Whether its losing an addiction or seizing new life with Christ, it’s not done in a snap. It’s slow. It’s painful. You’re bound to fail sometimes. Then even when you do succeed, you’ll likely fail to new issues you’re unprepared to handle since you never had to deal with them before. But then, one day - on the most glorious of days - you’ll look back and see just how far God brought you. The person you were is a stranger to who you are. All because He’s faithful to break us down and rebuild us, stronger than iron. And it all springs from the same starting point: a new heart with a new direction.
“I shouldn’t be alive, unless it was for a reason. I’m not crazy, . . . I just finally know what I have to do, and I know in my heart that it’s right.” - Tony Stark (Iron Man, 2008)
Ezekiel 36:26, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”