***For those who haven’t seen the movie, be aware that***
***this article is filled with spoilers***
I saw the movie Dr. Strange this past month and really enjoyed it. While one could argue there isn’t much spiritual value in a movie about sorcerers fighting one another, I respectfully disagree. The movie was incredibly full of spiritual lessons, and if I can nerd-out for a moment, I suggest that there was less sorcery than one might expect. Dr. Strange has a set of, well, strange rules for magic. They are fundamentally based off of Qi, which is really just a term for the life energy that exists in everything (and which originated from God). This in and of itself is reminiscent of old-time martial arts masters, not practitioners of magic, but at some point the lines get blurred.
The movie begins with Dr. Steven Strange, a self-centered genius who loses everything he values, and as he sinks deeper and deeper into his plight he finds himself where many of us have found ourselves in hard times—on the search for salvation. When he finally hits rock bottom he desperately reaches out to what is ultimately his savior—the Ancient One, a master of the magical arts. This teacher is hard, but overall very good to him and teaches and guides him into deeper truth than he could ever have imagined. When Strange meets the Ancient One, in search of bodily healing, she tells him that he can heal himself through the power of his spirit, which is accessed by belief. She says, “You are a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You have spent your life trying to widen it, to see more, to know more, and now, upon hearing it can be widened in ways you can’t imagine, you reject the possibility.” She demonstrates to Strange, through power encounters, that what she is saying is true. One of the key lines that stuck out to me was when Dr. Strange was searching for the truth—and she said, “You think this material world is all that there is. Open up your eye.”
While the movie is steeped in a conglomeration of ancient Eastern mysticism, using arcane tools and referencing the Third Eye, this isn’t actually too different from what Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you . . .” Dr. Strange has his own power-encounter and the eyes of his heart begin to be opened, much as God both has done and continues to do for each one of us as we learn and grow on our own spiritual journey.
As the movie progresses, a conflict between the Ancient One and one of her apostate disciples, Kaecilius, reaches its peak. Kaecilius is hungry for power, and in order to gain as much power as he can, he steals and taps into forbidden arts that access power from the Dark Dimension—a spiritual realm that is ruled by Dormammu, a powerful and ancient being of evil who could be likened to Satan, although the movie seems to give Dormammu far more power than I think Satan actually possesses.
But the conflict between Kaecilius and the Ancient One really played that out. Kaecilius grew angry and lusted after power, most especially seeking immortality, after not only seeing his loved ones die, but discovering that the Ancient One was already tapping into the forbidden power herself to support her longevity and give her a form of immortality. Unlike the immortality that Jesus gives us, this immortality was derived in almost vampiric fashion by stealing power from the Dark Dimension through the use of the forbidden magic. As a friend recently stated, “Kaecilius made a much more compelling argument than most Marvel villains. It came down to one word: hypocrite.” The Ancient One is the epitome of a hypocrite, telling others not to do the very thing she did, and yet somehow found it odd that people tried to follow what she did over what she said. This has been the age-old struggle of the believer, and is why it is so important that we practice what we preach—because people usually will respond to what we do much more than what we say we believe, and if our words and actions don’t match, it destroys our credibility, as it did with Kaecilius and the Ancient One.
One of the things I found most irritating about this particular aspect of the movie was that while they did a good job of creating characters of generally good morals and showed the main character’s total transformation from a narrow-minded, self-involved snob to a selfless savior, they left no possibility of supreme goodness at work in the world. The Ancient One laments that she is forced to use Dormammu’s power in order to peer through time and stop evil after evil, yet there was nowhere in the movie that suggested any Light Dimension of any sort that could supply this ability in another, more redemptive way, nor did it suggest she made any effort to find a better way. Mordo, one of her top disciples, demonstrated significant insight when he pointed out that what we sow we reap—and that using the power of the Dark Dimension for good only created another cycle of evil—and this played out as Kaecilius turned toward darkness due to his anger at the Ancient One’s hypocrisy. Strange ended up fighting in this battle as well.
In the same way that Stephen Strange fought darkness partly through his practiced abilities, we too have been given the same ability and same charge. Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” It wasn’t just his integrity and intelligence, but the fact that he had practiced with his powers time and time again. Much like the spiritual gifts that we receive by the Holy Spirit, Strange made the most of the talents and abilities he possessed—both natural and supernatural. This is an example of both wisdom and good stewardship, as God desires us to use wisdom in the ways we exercise both our spiritual and natural gifts and to use them to their full potential. When the Master rebuked his one servant in Matthew 25:14-30, it was because he didn’t even attempt to make use of what he had been given, and in this movie Dr. Strange emulates what we can accomplish if we are faithful to put our gifts and abilities to good use alongside God’s blessing.
While there are so many incredible spiritual parallels in this movie, As this mystical battle progressed, Kaecilius once threatened Dr. Strange, saying “You’ll die protecting this world.” In reality what Kaecilius said was in fact true—Dr. Strange took on a Jesus-like savior motif at the end. Jesus said “I lay my own life down and I take it up again,” and Steven Strange, emulating Jesus in a moment of Christ-like clarity, did the same. He laid his own life down again and again, letting himself be killed painful deaths hundreds of times in a time-loop of his own creation in order to force the Dark One to take his hands off Planet Earth forever. One of the magnificent things about his choice is that he did not find victory through compromise, nor did he attempt to defeat Dormammu by stealing power like the Ancient One did. His strength was in his newly developed virtue and integrity, along with his significant intellect and the abilities he had gained through rigorous practice. Through one man’s selfless act he purchased salvation for the whole world. Sound familiar?
One of the final lines I really appreciated in this movie was where the Ancient One first spoke to Dr. Strange. “Dr. Strange, you think you know how the world works. What if I told you the reality you know is one of many.” And again, “Through the mystic arts we harness energy and shape reality. We travel great distances in an instant.” This movie hints about the seemingly fantastical abilities God gives us by His spirit, even to the point of physical translocation, supernatural healing, power over time, and more. This movie encourages the watcher to open our eyes and minds up to a deeper spiritual reality than the physical touch-feel-see world around us. What is more, I feel it speaks to a generation of people who are hungry for God’s power to touch their lives. As the Body of Christ, we have been given a unique mandate to transform the earth and everyone in it, and to introduce them to God’s glory—His personality and Presence. If you have not yet seen this movie, I encourage you to watch it with an eye for the spiritual messages that God wants to share with you, as I have only touched the surface of the depth of wisdom and revelation that Holy Spirit can draw out of this secular film. I truly believe that even as it proclaims in Romans 1 that God speaks through all creation, and this movie is no different. Sit back, grab some popcorn, and let God transform your heart as you enjoy watching Dr. Strange.
For those interested, after the movie comes out of the theaters it should be available for order and/or on-demand viewing here.