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I didn’t want to see Wonder Woman in theaters. “Looks like a rental,” I told my husband. I couldn’t understand why so many conservatives who only recently had been up in arms at the mere idea of women being drafted into combat units would consider Wonder Woman a suitable role model.
In a culture overrun with entertainment focused on “strong” female protagonists who are only strong because they act like men, a film about an amazonian feminist didn’t seem like my cup of tea. That archetype seems to say, “You can do anything you put your mind to! You’re stronger than you think you are!” But here lies the rub: we will fail. We’ll fail to reach our own expectations because we’re human. We’re finite and sinful. We don’t deserve all we’ve been given.
And strangely enough, that’s exactly why I loved the new Wonder Woman movie. This film was the perfect example of common grace. This means the common man discovers and believes truth––often a tainted version––because of God’s grace to reveal it to mankind at large.
At the beginning of the film, Diana (Wonder Woman), is living on an island of women. She’s never seen a man before and is strikingly naive. Her mother, Hippolyta, tells Diana that mankind is innately good but the god of war, Ares, started a war many years before and ensnared their hearts with his evil. Without him, they would not hate or kill as they do. If only he were dead, mankind would be free to be good again.
Diana spent her whole life on the island believing in that goodness. When the Germans threaten to decimate the world, Diana believes wholeheartedly that she has the power to save everyone if only she can kill Ares.
Diana’s love interest, Steve Trevor, is the voice of reason throughout the film. He sees her naiveté and tells her that people do bad things because that’s who they are. She balks at his pessimism and forces her will against his advice.
Near the end of the film, she finally comes face-to-face with Ares. He urges her to see how futile her attempts to save the world are when these mortals are clearly not capable of changing. In a devil-on-the-shoulder fashion, Ares admits to whispering his own evil thoughts and ideas into the ears of those willing to listen, but he never forced them to act. They did it because they wanted to. They don’t deserve to be saved.
Sound familiar? That’s because it’s in the Bible. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one,” (Romans 3:12). “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23). The next time someone tells you that you deserve something good, remind yourself you don’t.
As chaos reigns, Steve is determined to save the local people. He decides to climb aboard a Nazi plane filled with bombs and blow it up while in the air. He says goodbye to Diana, the woman he loves, and fulfills his suicide mission.
Meanwhile, Diana stares down at the radical Nazi chemist, ready to strike and kill her. She doesn't deserve to be saved. After a moment of hesitation, Diana lowers her weapon and addresses her adversary. Everything Ares said about them is true. They aren’t good, but there’s more to them than just that. This isn’t about what they deserve, it’s about love.
So what is love? Jesus says in Matthew 5:44-45, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” And then in Mark 12:31, “The second [greatest commandment] is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Both St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle agree that love is “to will the good of another.” I would add that love is also willing the good of another before your own good. In other words, sacrificing yourself, your comfort, your dreams for the good of another person. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” (Philippians 2:3).
Normally you don’t see this kind of love displayed or discussed in films. Our culture is far more likely to speak of love as a feeling that can’t be controlled. For example, the commonly heard excuse for separation goes something like this: “I’m just not in love with you anymore. I’ve fallen in love with someone else.” This kind of language communicates we have no choice in the matter. We don’t choose love, it chooses us.
The Wonder Woman film avoids this blunder beautifully. During the climax, Diana must chose to show mercy despite the guilt of the human race. She could choose to walk away and return to her island. And yet she’d watched as the man she loves and respects died because of love. He knew of the guilt of mankind and yet he gave his life for them anyway.
Here is where common grace is most clearly seen. Although this film is imperfect in many ways, they still have an understanding of profound truth. Mankind is depraved from birth. We deserve death and hell, and yet there is something more to us than just that. It’s what God graciously made us into. We are his image bearers. Although we aren’t good apart from God, we do have value because of God.
But we still need a savior. We can’t achieve goodness on our own. Yet the sacrificial love that Steve and Diana display here is still lacking. Beautiful though it is, it will never save our souls from hell. We are bad, and only the ultimate act of love––the death of Christ on a cross––will ever be enough to conquer death and save us from eternal separation from the only being in the universe who is wholly good.
What is equally striking is the irony of such love being present in a blatantly feminist film. We have heard repeatedly in the wake of the recent presidential election and the women’s march of the priority of women’s rights. The theme and message of this film is in direct opposition to the usual feminist mantra that says you as a woman deserve to see your dreams realized––even at the expense of the comfort of others and the very life of your unborn child.
We see at the end of the movie Diana has finally come to grips with the truth––that people aren’t innately good, but she’s committed to them nonetheless. She’s committed to love.