Modern Parables

Loki, The Prodigal Son, and Me

Note One: This is a remix of my original series of posts on the subject, which you can read here: I am Loki.

Note Two: This is the story of how the movie Thor helped me understand the prodigal son story. But I want to say upfront: if your parents are abusive (physically, emotionally, verbally, etc.), you are in no way obligated to ever go home to them. Even if they accuse you of being a “prodigal.” Even if they say you are “bitter.” Take care of yourself. This is just the story of how Thor helped me come to terms with the prodigal son story and your mileage may vary.

*  *  *

There is a story as ancient as time.

Two brothers.

They both seek to be blessed and loved.

One brother is favored. The other brother is not.

The ending isn’t always the same. Sometimes a brother is killed (Cain). Sometimes he must flee (Jacob). Sometimes he is sold into slavery (Joseph). Sometimes he demands his inheritance and leaves of his own free will (Luke 15).

It is a story we still tell. Even to the point that is serves as the emotional backbone of an entire superhero franchise.

For a story to be repeated so many times, it must be important. It must bear truth.

For a story to be spoken by Jesus, it must be truth.

For a story to be put in a Marvel movie, it must have a hero and a villain. And the clear hero of the Thor franchise is Thor, while the villain is his brother Loki.

*  *  *

There is a son who demands his inheritance. He doesn’t want to stay home and work under his father’s rule. He wants to strike out on his own, be his own man.

His father allows him.

But things do not go the way the son expected, and soon he seeks to come back to his father’s house.

His father runs out to greet him, kisses him, and throws him a party.

There is another son.

This son stayed home. This son believed that staying home and serving his father was for the best—possibly for his own gain and possibly because he honestly wanted to do what was right and serve his family. This son never strayed. He never wandered. He never caused his father to worry.

And he watched as his father stared out the window, almost every day, hoping that a wayward child might come home.

So maybe he worked harder. Trying to please his father, to erase the sadness from his face. If he just worked harder, if he was just a better son, if he just did more, maybe his father could forget all about the son who abandoned him.

And one day the son is working out in the fields, doing his duty to his family. He looks up and sees in the distance that there seems to be a commotion at the house.

He sees a servant and asks what is going on.

“Your brother has returned!” the servant responds joyfully. “We’re throwing a party!”

Returned? A party? But no one told him. Were they going to let him work in the field through the entire party? Was he going to be out here doing his duty to his family for no reward while his brother who abandoned them was getting a party?

So he sulks in the field—doing his work, his duty, because it seems that’s all he was ever good for anyway.

The father comes out eventually, perhaps suddenly remembering he has two sons. But he does personally come out—finally—and personally invite him into the party.

But the son is hurt. And his hurt manifests in anger.

He says angry words, which his father hears, but his father does not hear the words on his heart. For even though he is a grown man, his heart is crying a child’s lament: “I just want you to love me.”

And for that he is the villain of this tale. For that he is immortalized by churches as the brother whose heart was too encased in bitterness that he wouldn’t join the party.

Was his heart hard? Yes, his heart was glass. It had withstood all the scratches of the past several years. It was scratched when his brother left, saying “I don’t care about this family.” It was scratched when his father would stare out the window lost in sadness instead of paying attention to the son he had at home. It was scratched every time the son started a conversation with his father about his own hopes and dreams, only to have the conversation turn back to the lost brother.

But his heart was glass, so it could withstand that. Because hard materials can be scratched without compromising their integrity.

But his heart was glass, so when he wasn’t invited to the party—when his own father briefly forgot about his existence—his heart shattered. Because hard doesn’t mean tough. And glass is brittle.

Because despite all his hard work, it seems in the end, no one really cares about him.

*  *  *

The prodigal son story always bothered me. From my teens years, through college, and graduate school, even after college, this story filled my heart with anger.

I had heard too many preachers expound on this subject. I had heard to many “prodigals” speak of how comforting it is that the father saw the “prodigal” from the window, meaning the father must always have been there at the window waiting for him.

If the father was waiting at the window, didn’t that mean his other son was being ignored? Why didn’t the father even consider sending a servant out to get the other son? He had to find out from a passing servant for goodness sake. Doesn’t that show the father in fact doesn’t care about him?

“But everything you already have is mine,” says the parent. Because yes, father, what I care about is your financial wealth, and not your attention, time, or love. Obviously.

*  *  *

There is a king, called Odin, who has two sons, close in age. He raises them in competition, telling them they are both meant to be kings.

But there can only be one king of Asgard.

The oldest son takes after his father. He is all brawn and athleticism, quick to make merry and quick to anger. He is brash and bold. A golden child. He is called Thor.

The younger son takes after his mother. He is quiet and reserved, slow to speak and slow to anger. But his mind is frighteningly fast and others can not keep up with its twists and turns. He is called Loki.

The two are inseparable. They are best friends and bitter enemies.

Only one child can receive the father's ultimate blessing and birthright. Only one child can be king.

In the end, it seems that it is Thor who will become king, but on the day of his coronation something goes wrong. Frost giants--the Jotun, who are the mortal enemies of Asgard--attack.

The father, who is still king despite the started coronation, thinks no action should be taken. Thor thinks Asgard should bring its full might to bear on Jotunheim.

Thor says, "As king of Asgard...!"

"But you're not king. Not yet," his father reminds him.

It will be Thor's inheritance to be king, but it is not yet his inheritance to have.

Once his father leaves, Thor devises a plan to go to Jotunheim anyway. He decides to punish them himself. As if he was king. But he's not.

He starts a war.

In the end his father is there to save them, as fathers do. And there are harsh words spoken between father and son. The father calls his son vain and cruel. Thor calls him a fool.

Odin realizes his son is not ready for the inheritance he is demanding, maybe not ever ready for it. So he banishes him.

Leaving another son left behind.


Quiet Loki. Cunning Loki. Mischievous Loki.

Loki, who more than anything just wants to be loved.

But while following his brother to Jotunheim Loki discovered something horrifying.

He is actually a Frost Giant.

Suddenly Loki is re-watching his whole life with a different lens. Things that didn't make sense as a child--times when he was treated differently from Thor for no apparent reason--suddenly make sense. The pieces fall into place. Because Loki is a Frost Giant, and his parents have known that all along. That's why he's different.

That's why no matter how good he is, no matter how hard he works or tries to excel, he is never going to be king. Because a Frost Giant is never going to sit on the throne of Asgard.

Loki is confused and angry, but ultimately nothing has changed other than life makes more sense. His desires are still the same. He still wants to be his father's son. He wants to be Thor's equal. But most importantly, he wants to be loved.

Odin has a heart attack and is placed in a coma. Suddenly Loki is king. Because he's the only one home. He's the only one there to take care of Asgard. Because Thor was brash and demanded his inheritance before it was rightfully his. Now Loki has the burden of the entire family, people, and world on his shoulders.

Loki, the son left behind, must do his duty.

And Loki is king. He is now within his rights to demand the retribution from Jotunheim that his brother also wanted. But Loki learned from Thor's blunt force attack on Jotunheim. He cannot win such a battle. So Loki devises a clever plan. Perhaps too clever.

He invites the king of Jotunheim into Asgard to kill Odin, as if Loki is a traitor. The king takes him up on the offer. But right when the king is in Odin's throne room, Loki kills him. In one fell swoop Loki topples the Jotun's government and saves his own father.

A clever plan. Too clever for anyone else to understand. They can't understand it, so it backfires.

The prodigal son returns at the climax of Loki's victory.

Thor claims he's changed. He is a better man and able to be king after maybe three days on Earth. And as always everyone falls all over the prodigal son returned.

Suddenly Loki is the bitter son in the background, the villain.

But he did it for his family--his adopted family that he still loves regardless. He even killed his own biological father--the king of Jotunheim--to prove how much he loved his adopted family!

But it's not good enough. It never is. He is always second. Always one step below. Always the bitter, angry brother in the background.

In the end when Odin looks at Loki and says, "no Loki," Loki breaks.

He did everything for Odin. He just wants to be the son Odin wants, the son he esteems, the son he loves, and instead Odin looks at Loki as if he's the biggest disappointment.

And in that moment, Loki realizes there is nothing he can do. He will never be equal to Thor. He will always be Loki, the mischievous one. Never the thunder god.

So he gives up.

Because it's hard to love them. It's too hard to continue trying. It's too hard to get continuously rejected. So he gives up.

He lets go.

Everything in Loki's life was done to be a better son, a better part of the family, to prove himself an equal part of the family. Instead they think he's the villain.

And if they're going to think he's a villain, he might as well be one.

*  *  *

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone whose sibling goes prodigal, but for me when a sibling went astray, I wanted to work harder, to be a better child. Not necessarily for myself—but because I didn’t want my parents to hurt anymore. I thought if only I was better, if only I was a perfect child who demonstrated that it wasn’t their parenting, but rather that other child’s own personal ways that led them astray, maybe they’d feel better.

I did everything right.

I got nothing I wanted.

Because you can’t erase another child’s delinquency with your own inerrancy.

But Lord did I try.

I failed. I felt like a failure. I felt taken for granted. 

I felt unloved. Because the amount of time and worry my parents expended on this prodigal child—on a child who wasn’t even there—was more than it seemed I ever got.

And I felt that either my entire life was going to be this: being a perfect child who cannot afford to slip up and do anything wrong lest I cause my already hurting parents even more pain and disappointment.

Being the non-prodigal results in things like this. I call my parents weeping, over a serious issue in my life. But oh hark! Call waiting pings! AND IT’S THE PRODIGAL. “Oh joy! The prodigal is calling! We must answer! Just to hear their voice!” The parents hang up on the weeping child who needs them with a “we’ll call you back.” I am left on a dead phone line not sure how to progress. How long will their phone conversation last? Will they call me back?

I didn’t know. I just knew the prodigal was more important than me.


So I hardened my heart against these parental infractions against me, because isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? The good child just takes it, right? We don’t leave. We don’t fight. We just submit.

Our heart gets harder.

Our heart gets brittle.

Every time the prodigal hints they might come home, we throw the party! And when the prodigal doesn’t follow through or leaves again, it’s the child left behind who picks up the pieces. And for that the good child gets no praise. No reward. Because their behavior is expected.

So perhaps it’s no wonder I would walk out on sermons about the prodigal son. That I would get in fights with people in my Bible Study over what this story meant, that usually ended with me in tears.

*  *  *

There is a moment in Thor where Loki and his mother are having a conversation by the sickbed of Odin. They're talking about why Odin and Frigga never told Loki he's a frost giant. His mother is trying to explain. Loki doesn't get it, and he's worried about his father, who seems so frail, so sick, so old. Loki loves his father and doesn't want him to die. And his mother tells him to never lose hope, not for his father or for Thor. And Loki responds:

"What hope is there for Thor?"

Oh, that question. That is not a question where Loki is condemning Thor. That is not a question of wishing the brother was gone. The emotion of the question is, "Why are we talking about this right now? We're supposed to be talking about me and the fact that I'm a frost giant and you never freakin' told me? Can we please get back to me?"

But of course he doesn't voice that. Because that would be selfish. And we're not supposed to be selfish, no matter how much we work just for our parents’ attention. 

Oh that feeling. I know that feeling so well. In the past decade, I would say that 75% of my conversations with my parents revolved around my older siblings. And to this day I have put it up with it with little complaint just so I could talk to my parents. Because that's the topic they cared about. And I just wanted to talk to them. 

So Loki is at home without Thor, and he's enjoying as much as he can. This single child attention is all he ever really wanted, even if it is tainted with the occasional discussion about Thor. 

And then the prodigal returns. 

He claims to have changed. He claims he's different. And it doesn't matter that you've been working the fields at home or just saved your father's life. Your mother goes from mid-hug with you to flinging herself into Thor's arms. Leaving you just standing there. 

Leaving you bitter.

And the story of the prodigal stops there, but the story of Loki goes on. Because Loki goes where I've always thought to go.

When you have a sibling go prodigal and you see all the attention that gets them--attention you want--you have this serious temptation to go prodigal yourself.

I can't explain to you the number of times I'd seriously considered going prodigal, for a short while, so that I could get all that attention, worry, and concern to myself. And then I could come back to open arms and a party. 

I'd considered it so many times. I'd been deeply tempted. But it would hurt my parents, and I wasn’t callous enough to hurt them on purpose.

But Loki, Loki who has done everything for his parents, for his family, who has tried so hard to no avail, he does it. 

He gives up. He let's go. He goes prodigal. 

And it does get him attention. It works. His father goes to great lengths to send Thor to Earth in The Avengers in order to bring Loki home. He’s getting attention. What he always wanted. 

But the cost is too great.

The cost is villainy.

*  *  *

The story of the prodigal son doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It comes in a context of people complaining to Jesus that he hangs out with degenerates. Specifically, the people complaining are Pharisees and scribes, i.e. religious people, who are basically complaining that Jesus should hang out with them, the good people, and not the sinners/bad people.

Jesus responds with three stories.

In the first story, a shepherd with 100 sheep sees one go astray. He chases after that sheep, leaving the others behind. But then he brings that sheep back to the flock, and everyone celebrates that the lost sheep has been found!

In the second story, a woman with ten coins loses one. She searches the whole house looking for it until she finds it and now has ten coins again. Everyone celebrates the lost coin has been found!

The third story is the story of the prodigal, and it differs from the other two.  The first half, verses 11-24, seem to be very in line with the first two stories. A man loses a son. When the son is returned to him, he celebrates for his lost son has been found!

However, even in this first part there is a difference. The father did not go out looking for the son. He did not abandon his son at home to go find the prodigal. The father remained home, and the prodigal had to return of his own free will.

The other difference with this story is that it doesn’t stop in verse 24, it keeps going, and we get the perspective of the son left at home. The shepherd’s story doesn’t tell about how the sheep feel to be left behind by the shepherd. Presumably coins don’t have feelings to consider. But sons do.

If Jesus was just telling a story about God rejoicing when lost things are found, he would have stopped in verse 24, so why did he continue?

Well, who is Jesus talking to here if not the brothers left behind?

The father in the story isn’t rejecting the older brother. He is explaining himself, just as Jesus uses these three stories to explain himself to the Pharisees. But I also think Jesus is not rejecting the Pharisees here. Jesus is often harsh to the Pharisees in the gospels, but I don’t think this is one of those cases.

The Pharisees here are the sheep who haven’t wandered, the coins still in the purse, the brother at home. They’re already there. That’s the whole point of what the father says to the older brother. This story is an explanation to the Pharisees that they’re already home, and Jesus is trying to find the ones who are not and bring them home.

But the story of the sons is left open ended. It doesn’t end with the older son defying the father or the older son going into the party. We’re left hanging. Because ultimately, I think this story is an invitation to those very people Jesus is talking to. They’re not sheep. They’re not coins. They’re sons. And they can either join the party or leave.

No one ever talks about that.

When this story is preached the other brother is either villainized or worse—ignored. They just stop the preaching at verse 24. Because we other brothers aren’t important to the prodigal story, right?

But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Because this isn’t a sermon for prodigals. This is a sermon for the “other” son. Jesus is trying to reach the Pharisees. He is trying to explain to them why we celebrate for the prodigal, but that doesn’t mean God loves them less. It doesn’t mean they can’t come to the party.

God isn’t punishing them for not getting lost.

God is giving them a choice.

They can come to the party or not.

*  *  *

Loki could have come home at the end of the story.

He could have let Thor help him up. He could have seen how much his brother loved him—risking his own life just to save him despite all the villainous acts Loki had done. He could have had an honest talk with his father about how the false competition Odin had placed Thor and Loki in all their lives hurt them, and that Loki was no longer willing to play the competition game but he still loved them all.

But he didn’t.

Loki chooses to fall into a void, to possibly die, rather than face his family. He ultimately ends up in the clutches of Thanos—tortured and abused—before making it back to Earth where he regains familial attention, but not in a good way. As a supervillain.

*  *  *

I don’t want to be a supervillain.

*  *  *

Whenever I thought of the prodigal's brother, whenever I thought about my own situation, all I could think was "it's unfair", and then my mind would start churning justifications, times when I've been hurt and neglected. And you know what, it's not fair. I have been hurt. I have been neglected. I have been wronged.

But churning, holding on, acting on those justifications when it can't change anything--because you can’t change anyone else—that was leading me towards a path of villainy. It was leading me towards a path where I chose to go prodigal even though I knew it would hurt people. 

It didn’t matter how many times people said “bitterness will eat you up” or “you have to let it go.” Because the hurt ran so deep, the wound was so raw, and I knew I was justified. People could say let it go all they want, but how do you let something go when your heart is in glass pieces on the floor? You can’t glue it back together the same. Nothing will ever heal that.

My justifications weren't wrong. The “other son” is not wrong when being mad he wasn’t invited to the party. Loki's justifications of the unfairness of his life aren’t wrong. Thor has been favored over him. Brawn is valued more than brain in Asgard. He will never get to be king or equal to Thor no matter how hard he works, because he's a frost giant. He is completely 100% right.

And it doesn't matter.

No, that's not right. It's not that it doesn't matter. It's that somehow I've got to choose to be better. Because if I don't, if I don't choose to change my path, I'm going to come back in The Avengers with an alien army and try to subjugate the world. 

I don't want to be a super villain. 

I have to choose not to be a super villain.

This seems a simple conclusion--choosing a different path--one I should have realized a long time ago. But in Christian circles we have a saying, where things go "from your head to your heart." This idea has been in my head all my life, but it was the movie Thor that moved it into my heart. 

Because my life isn't about them, my family. It's about me. I can't change them. I can't make them treat me differently. But I can change me.

Because I may deeply empathize with Loki, but I don't want to be him. I don't want to be Thor either. I want to be me. I want to be who Loki would have been if he hadn't snuck frost giants into Asgard and tried to destroy Jotunheim. I want to be who God wants me to be, and that's not a person who holds onto anger.

I can't change what's happened to me. I can't change how others will treat me. But I can change who I become. 

It's all about choice. 

And I choose not to be a super villain.


Donkeys, Parables, and Pop Culture

When Jesus preached, he used stories. Of course we call them parables now, but Google tells me the definition of a parable is simply thus:

“Parable, noun, a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, as told by Jesus in the Gospels.”

Yep, that’s right. Jesus told stories.

There is power in stories, which is why people have always told them. Even our parents telling us of memories and lessons from their own youth is them passing on their stories. Without these stories, we would be left completely on our own, and we know would know nothing beyond our own experience. We like telling stories and listening to them. We like being transported to lives that are not our own. But most importantly, stories allow us to experience things outside of our own lives. They teach us lessons we might never learn on our own.

Or they show us truths reflected back at ourselves like a mirror.

Despite this, growing up, I got the distinct impression while my fellow Christians thought we could be taught through stories truths about God, it was only certain kinds of stories. Stories written by Christians, for Christians, about Christian topics. You know the books I’m talking about. It’s your Left Behinds, Frank Peretti’s or Francine Rivers’ novels. Now I’m not saying those books can’t teach you about God. They certainly do. I learned a lot from those and other Christian writers. But I also learned a lot from the Jewish by birth, atheist by belief Isaac Asimov (I, Robot; Foundation), and the decidedly not Church approved J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter).

My parents never stopped or discouraged me from reading these books, but it was with the knowledge that if I was reading the book in the car on the way to church, I left it in the car when I got to church—even if I was just going to be wasting the next hour while my mother practices handbells with nothing to do but fidget in the pews.

The crazy thing to me in retrospect is that some of Jesus’ most powerful parables don’t even reference God. Stories of farmers and wheat (Matthew 13). Stories of men and their sons (Luke 15). The word “God” or even references to the religious establishment aren’t made. Yet it’s clear to everyone these stories are about God.

Which means stories don’t have to be explicitly about God to teach us something about God.

* * *

As a known Marvel fan, people often have a habit of asking me my favorite Marvel movie. I imagine they expect a certain answer, probably judging on the fact that I have a dog named Bucky and can often be found sporting a Winter Soldier hoodie. Needless to say it can be a little shocking when I answer, “Thor.” This is especially surprising to those who also love Marvel movies, since at best Thor is hailed as a “just okay” movie.

This inevitably leads to the question, “Why? How can that movie be your favorite one?”

The answer is both simple and complicated, so depending on the time I have with them it can range from anything from a simple truth “Loki is my favorite Marvel character” to the deepest truth: “God used the movie Thorto convict and change me, and since that day I have never been the same.”

It’s true, on a Saturday in May in 2012, I sat on the couch of my home crying as the movie went to its closing credits, knowing that through this merely okay movie about superheroes, God had spoken to me.

* * *

Balaam’s tale is told in the latter half of the book of Numbers—a book of the Bible that gets a bad rap because of the whole numbering everyone in Israel thing, but also has quite a few interesting tidbits. Like Balaam (Numbers 22).

Balaam was a sorcerer in Moab when the Israelites came to the Promised Land for the second time--that is after their wandering in the desert for 40 years. With their punishment over, they had the full power and authority of God behind them to reclaim the Promised Land—where people like the Moabites already lived. Needless to say as the Moabites watched the Israelites cut through other tribes like a hot knife through butter, they got a little nervous.

The king of Moab at the time—a dude named Balak—was getting a little worried the Moabites were going to be next, and after watching the Israelites kill everyone else, he decided his best bet was to call the number one sorcerer in the land: Balaam.

"Behold, a people came out of the Egypt; behold they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite of me. Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed."

--Numbers 22:5-6 (NASB)

(I like in particular that the Israelites are so mighty that Balak really only thinks a curse might slow them down and give Balak a chance—just a chance—of defeating them. By no means does he talk like this curse will end them once and for all.)

Now, Balaam despite not being an Israelite and being a sorcerer, thought God was real. Granted, he thought of God as just one of many gods or powers at work in the land—he even tried to corrupt Israelites with this later (Numbers 31:16)—but in this case, he thought it might be a good idea to ask God what he should do (Numbers 22:8).

As one might expect, God said:

“Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed"

--Numbers 22:12 (NASB)

Balaam, not being an idiot, decided to listen to God.

Unfortunately the king of Moab wasn’t taking no for an answer, so he sent more people to implore Balaam to come. Balaam responds to these people with:

Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God.

--Numbers 22:18 (NASB)

In the Bible it seems at this point, Balaam was quite firmly in the “don’t cross God” camp, and he was just going to stay put where he was. Then that night God came to him and said:

"If the men have come to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do."

--Numbers 22:20 (NASB)

So Balaam—once again not being an idiot—did what he was told. He went saddled his donkey and went with the Moabites.

Now in the very next verse (Numbers 22:22) it says that “But God was angry because he was going.” Which on my first read caused my head to turn and go “Huh? Didn’t God tell him to go?” I’m not a Bible-expert but the footnotes of my Bible say this:

God let Balaam go with Balak’s messengers, but he was angry about Balaam’s greedy attitude. Balaam claimed that he would not go against God just for the money, but his resolve was beginning to slip. His greed for wealth offered by the king blinded him so that he could not see how God was trying to stop him.

--Footnote from the Life Application Bible

Now, to me personally, that seems a little of a stretch of what the text actually says. Maybe Balaam’s will was growing weak. I’d need to seek out extra commentary on the fact. But reading through the next few passages I put forth a slightly different interpretation.

God was angry because Balaam had to go. After all, this Moabite king is trying to kill His chosen people. But He also wanted Balaam to go because He wanted Balaam to prophesy to the king of Moab, which he does in Numbers 23. However, maybe God knew that Balaam as he was right now—a sorcerer with no loyalty to God above any other “gods”—might not actually listen to Him and give His words to the king, which God wanted Balaam to do. So in order to scare the bejeezus out of him—to ensure that Balaam would in fact obey God, a strange experience happened to Balaam on his journey to the king.

God put an angel with his sword drawn—ready to kill Balaam—in his path.

Now Balaam couldn’t see this angel, but his donkey could. And the donkey rightly decided that this was not a creature she wanted to cross paths with (Numbers 22:23).

This pissed Balaam off because he couldn’t see the angel and he thought his donkey was just being stubborn. So he beat her. This repeated two more times on the journey, the angel would move, the donkey would be able to go ahead, then she would see the angel again, rightfully stop moving, and Balaam would beat her (Numbers 22:23-27).

Then something astounding happened.

And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?"

--Numbers 22:28 (NASB)

The donkey spoke.

Now, if I was Balaam the next verse would read something like “And Balaam died of shock.” But that’s not what happens. Balaam converses with his donkey. He basically accuses the donkey of making him look like a fool (Numbers 22:29). The donkey responds by pointing out she had been trustworthy all her life to him before this and had never done anything like this before, so basically he should trust her now.

Then God opens Balaam’s eyes and he’s able to see the angel, and basically realizes the donkey saved his butt. Balaam immediately repents of going to see the king and says he’ll turn back, but the angel reiterates God’s earlier message.

"Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you."

--Numbers 22:35 (NASB)

And guess what? That’s exactly what Balaam does. He goes to the king and prophecies and his prophecies take up the next two chapters (Numbers 23 & 24).

God spoke to Balaam through a donkey.

God spoke to Balak through a non-Hebrew, idolatrous sorcerer.

If God can speak through an animal and sorcerer, I’m pretty sure He can speak through and use anything to get his point across.

* * *

When I share with people that a Marvel movie changed my life, they are always surprised. Even the most Christian of friends, even my pastors, have looked at me with expressions that start somewhere around “oh really?” and end at “Are you insane???”

I believe God can speak to us through anything, and sure, the average Christian would nod their head along in agreement with that statement. But in my experience with the Church, when most people say “anything” what they really mean is: the Bible, our preacher, nature, and our families. No one bats an eye when a mother talks about the truth about love she learned from her infant child (and nor should they), but when I say I learned a truth of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through a movie about pagan gods turned superheroes, people are usually skeptical at best.

Yet I was taught all my life—for good reason—the God can use anything. He can use the Bible, our preacher, nature, our families, donkeys, sorcerers, and even Marvel movies to speak to us.

And I think if the parables show us anything, it’s that sometimes we mere mortals need stories to help us understand. Because God is beyond what our brains can comprehend, but sometimes in stories we can glimpse a truth we might never have been able to find on our own.

So that’s the reason for this blog. For this series I’m calling “Modern Parables.” To explore different stories in pop culture—movies, books, musicals, TV shows, and even video games—and show how they’ve helped me understand better the Bible, my faith, and my God.

I can only hope that God can use something even more unlikely than Marvel movies and donkeys--that is me--to speak to you.