Time and Eternity

[Warning: this article contains spoilers for the film Doctor Strange]

“Magic’s just science we don’t understand yet.” This Arthur C. Clarke quote, uttered by Jane Foster in Thor, was the prevailing view of magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for years. That all ended with Doctor Strange, which introduced the Astral Dimension and “real” magic. The movie centers around Dr. Stephen Strange, a world-renowned—and extremely arrogant and self-centered—neurosurgeon. After a terrible car crash ends his surgical career, Strange spirals into a deep depression.

However, he soon learns of an alternative method of healing that could possibly restore the use of his hands—and, thus, his career and lifestyle—which leads to the following encounter with the Ancient One:

Matter and Nothing More
What we see here is a conflict of worldviews. Everything Strange believed about the world suddenly came crashing down. Let’s examine two of his statements and how they form his worldview:

“We are made of matter and nothing more.” – Doctor Strange

This is the definition of Naturalism. According to this worldview, there is no soul, no spiritual realm, and of course, no God. The physical world is all that exists. This is a common atheistic view of the universe, one that has dire repercussions for humanity.

“You’re just another tiny, momentary speck within an indifferent universe.” – Doctor Strange

This gets to the heart of the implications of Naturalism. In this worldview, there is no ultimate meaning or purpose, just matter blindly following the laws of physics. Humans are nothing special, just highly evolved primates. What is most striking, however, is that the movie’s villain echoes this same exact statement when Strange accuses him of murdering people to achieve his ends. After all, if humans hold no special value, why can’t they be killed on a whim, or simply used as a means to an end?

This belief is why Naturalism is so dangerous. Properly understood, it is a purposeless, hopeless worldview. However, rejecting it in favor of just any vague spiritual worldview does not improve things. To explain, let’s turn to the movie’s main villain, Kaecilius.

Truth from a Villain
Kaecilius, like Strange, also trained with the Ancient One, but he became disillusioned with her ways and sought out his own path. At one point in the movie, Kaecilius explains his destructive mission to Dr. Strange, in which he offers some accurate observations of reality:

“All things age, all things die. In the end, our sun burns out, our universe grows cold and perishes.” – Kaecilius

This scientific truth is Kaecilius’s main motivation. Our universe is running out of useable energy and will eventually grow cold and die, leading him to believe that life is ultimately meaningless. This is true, if there is no afterlife. What do all of our dreams, desires, and accomplishments matter once the world ends? We can pretend that our lives have purpose just to make it through the day, but if our universe is headed towards destruction, and there’s nothing we can do can stop it, then life is utterly hopeless and meaningless.

“The world is not what it ought to be. Humanity longs for the eternal.” – Kaecilius

We long for something more, something real and true, beyond what we can see with our eyes. Kaecilius thinks what is wrong with the world is simply time itself, that all things eventually end. His solution? To allow a dark god to devour the world.

Is death really the only thing wrong with the world? What about the pain and suffering that people face during their lives? Surely these things also need to be corrected here and now. While Kaecilius was correct in recognizing that something was wrong with the world, he understood only a piece of it. And so his means of fixing it led only to more death, destruction, and suffering.

This teaches us a critical worldview truth: If you do not truly understand what is wrong with the world, any attempts to correct it will just make things worse.

The Christian Response
While Kaecilius made some correct observations about reality, his responses to them were terribly wrong, since he had an incomplete worldview. So, what does Christianity teach about these things? Humanity longs for the eternal because we were made to be eternal. God created us in his image, which gives us immense value. We are not just “tiny, momentary specks within an indifferent universe,” but our lives have deep meaning and purpose.

Furthermore, death is not the sole problem of humanity; it is the result of our ultimate problem: sin. That is what causes pain, suffering, and everything wrong with the world. But in Jesus, we have forgiveness for our sins, and he is remaking us in his image. Our lives will end, as will the entire universe; but while we are here we are ambassadors of the King, sent to glorify God, love our neighbors, and help bring restoration to the damage caused by sin. Death does not rob our lives of meaning, it simply makes our time more pressing. We need not fear death, however, as those who place their faith in Jesus have eternal life.

Time and eternity are the major themes of Doctor Strange, and what you believe about them will shape the way you live. If your worldview offers no hope for life after death, then why not pursue a selfish, hedonistic lifestyle, no matter who it hurts? None of your choices ultimately matter, anyway. You only live once (YOLO!), so just enjoy life before it’s over.

According to Christianity, however, there is hope after death and every decision we make in this life echoes throughout eternity. When we die, it is not the end but simply a new beginning. Some worldviews lead to nothing but despair; Christianity offers true meaning and hope. The world will be remade, and those who trust in Jesus will rule and reign with him in his everlasting Kingdom.

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Timothy Fox

Timothy Fox has a passion to equip the church to engage the culture. He is a part-time math teacher, full-time husband and father. He has an M.A. in Christian Apologetics from Biola University as well as an M.A. in Adolescent Education of Mathematics and a B.S. in Computer Science, both from Stony Brook University. Tim lives on Long Island, NY with his wife and children. He also blogs at freethinkingministries.com.