[Warning: may contain spoilers]
I admit it—I am a fan of the tales of Starling City’s masked vigilante, Oliver Queen aka the Arrow.
Initially, I had heard so much about it from multiple different people that, in order to understand what any of them were talking about, I knew I needed to watch. So, I decided to give in and turned to the ever faithful database of popular shows: Netflix.
As I watched, I ended up getting immersed in the show.
Surprisingly to me, the show wasn’t just a typical, ridiculous action-packed show, lacking any real substance. Even though the acting was a little stale at times, as I continued to watch, I was riveted by the story lines and compelling plot that drove the show.
More particularly, I was enraptured by the redemptive themes of the show.
I’m the type of guy that looks for themes of redemption in everything, mainly because I believe God uses everything to testify to it. The second season of the show is really where these types of motifs started to flesh themselves out. I started to see how Arrow presented the same truths that the gospel itself presents. While, of course, Arrow doesn’t explicitly give a Christian account of these things, I still was able to pick up on these themes. I found Arrow presenting the following three truths.
1) Injustice exists and it needs to be stopped.
From the first episode, we knew that Oliver Queen was on a mission. His mantra was that his father, among others, had “failed this city.” Starling City had been subjected to countless injustices and, upon returning home, Oliver Queen knew that he had to set it right. He made it his duty to right the wrongs that had been done to the city that he loved so dearly. Of course, this meant masking himself and “serving” his city as “the Arrow,” commonly called “the Hood” or “the Vigilante” by the city people. He knew that something was wrong and that this wrong had to be stopped.
Starling City acts as a microcosm both for the world, in general, and human systems as a whole, in particular. Injustice is rampant across the whole world, manifesting itself in countless different ways. Such issues include things like the oppression and marginalization of different people groups, poverty, starvation, genocide, and countless other injustices. These injustices are caused due to sinful humans doing sinful things. When a bunch of sinners get together, bad things happen. Justice, according to N.T. Wright, means, “putting the world to rights,” a British way of saying to make things right again. In a Christian worldview, this means making God’s kingdom come and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven.
Like Oliver Queen, the Church is called to acknowledge these injustices as such and work to confront them. It isn’t enough to simply acknowledge that something is wrong. The Church is on a mission. We are called to be salt of the earth, light in the darkness, and a shining city on a hill. Jesus is ruling the earth on his throne, and it is our job to manifest that rule in reality. Where racism exists, we must seek racial reconciliation. Where hunger exists, we must feed the starving. Where poverty exists, we must look out for the least of our sisters and brothers. And not only that, but we must confront the systems that further enhance these injustices.
Injustice is out there. There is no denying that. But the Church needs to put on the hood and save the world from those who have “failed” it.
2) The main problem is the disease, not the symptoms.
In one episode, Oliver Queen encounters on family that goes around stealing large amonts of money from various banks. Upon discovering it, he decided that he was just going to leave them alone. When his partner, John Diggle, asked him why he wasn’t going to deal with it, Oliver replied that this crime was only a “symptom”, not what was actually causing the problem. In other words, this family only sank to the level that they did (i.e. stealing) because they were a part of an already corrupt system that basically “forced their hand.” In a place where the choice is not survive or steal, to steal would be the obvious.
Queen ends up dealing with the problem, but his distinction is critical. People who are a part of the kingdom of God should be much more concerned with the disease than the symptoms. This is, in fact, what Jesus himself did. The Bible actually identifies the sources of the “disease.” Ephesians 6:12 says,
“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
So, here we see that there are two sources of the “disease” that plagues the created order: a physical source and a spiritual source. The physical source is from those in power, both “rulers” and “authorities.” Sin has corrupted the institutions and systems of humans and they perpetuate the injustices that exist in our fallen world. Therefore, while we should work to restore them, they ultimately cannot be trusted. Additionally, the spiritual sources like the “cosmic powers” and “forces of evil” continue to influence the world. In fact, they are the forces that fuel the physical sources of the “disease.”
Therefore, as Christians, have to primarily address these “diseases,” instead of simply focusing on the “symptoms.” We can’t expect to get rid of the root simply by cutting it back. We have to completely pull it out of the ground. This quote by Brian Zahnd sums it up nicely:
Jesus struck at the heart of the systemic evil that has provided the foundation for human civilization. Jesus didn’t seem very interested in exposing symptomatic sinners—tax collectors, drunkards, prostitutes, etc. Instead Jesus challenged the guardians of systemic sin—the power brokers of religion and politics.
3) The means must match the end.
In the first season of Arrow, Oliver Queen commits himself to getting rid of those who wielded all the power in Starling City—doing so by killing each one of them. He has a list that was given to him by his father and assassinates these people, one by one. However, he quickly finds that all of this death doesn’t fix the problem. In the midst of all of the death that occurred, even more death started to occur. Malcolm Merlyn was a mastermind of an undertaking that wiped out a good portion of Starling City and killed hundreds and hundreds of people. Also, Oliver Queen’s best friend, Tommy Merlyn (Malcom’s son), was killed in an accident directly related to that. Tommy declared that Oliver was a murderer and all of the death that he caused came back to bite him.
In response to Tommy’s death, Oliver pledged that he would no longer kill his enemies. Rather, he would subdue them through a means other than death. He realized that the answer to stopping death wasn’t to kill. If justice was the end, then he had to seek an equally just means.
Albert Einstein once said, “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” Jesus once said a similar thing. When Peter used a sword to cut off the ear of a Roman soldier, Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” As Christians, we are called to seek justice. We are called to confront the injustices that exist in the world. For God to be a just God, a righteous Lord, his people have to acknowledge the aspects of this world that go against his will. However, we can’t fight fire with fire. As Jesus said, we can’t take an eye for an eye. No, disciples of Jesus must keep that same goal in mind, but attempt to find a better way.
Oliver searched for a better way to confront the injustice he saw. He saw that death only led to more death. If he wanted to find a just end, he had to use just means. When we look at Jesus, he didn’t use violent means to reach a peaceful end. He chose the entire path of peace in order to achieve peace. Jesus is calling for us to do the same thing. This doesn’t mean passivity. It doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means doing something in a way that doesn’t indulge the ways of the world.
The way of the kingdom is a different way. The path is narrow and those who go down it are few. But it is the way Jesus called us to go down.
So, as you can see, Arrow is offering many redemptive themes. Oliver Queen is searching for justice, he’s attacking the disease and not only the symptoms, and he is trying to do so with means that match his desired end. This is the same mission that the Church has today. We are looking forward to the time when heaven and earth will meet and all things will be new. We’re looking at the justice that will flow like a river when our Lord Jesus returns. And we’re attempting to manifest that as much as we can in the here and now.
Oliver’s Starling city is our world and we have to love it enough to declare that we have failed it, but that God isn’t done with it yet. He’s restoring it. He’s renewing it. And he’s bringing justice to a place which so desperately needs it.