Captain America tells the story of how Steve Rodgers, an underweight invalid whose attempts to enlist in the Army are repeatedly rejected, becomes through genetic manipulation the first of a new breed of super-soldiers and savior of America against the menace of the Nazis. Thematically, the story resembles The Lord of the Rings in one important respect: like Frodo Baggins, Rodgers is a most unlikely hero. What qualifies Rodgers to become a hero is not his physical strength, but his “qualities beyond the physical”; in other words, the strength of his character: his courage, persistence, loyalty, willingness to sacrifice for others, and perhaps most importantly his aversion to power. He could handle the extraordinary power conferred on him by the super serum because as a weak man he knew “the value of strength and compassion.”
Frodo Baggins is chosen to the role of ring-bearer, for the purpose of destroying the ring, because he could handle the ring’s power better than the stronger beings who would not be able to resist the temptation to use the ring’s power for their own ends. His aversion to power was likewise born from the weakness of his physical frame: he was a lowly hobbit, a member of the weakest race in Middle Earth. Yet he possessed the internal qualities of bravery, perseverance, and devotion to his friends that qualified him, together with his physical weaknesses, to be the hero of Middle Earth.
This theme of the unlikely hero is echoed in God’s Word. After King Saul compromises the legitimacy of his reign by asserting his will over God’s will, the Lord sends the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to choose a new king from among his sons. Samuel presumes that one of Jesse’s older sons was God’s choice because of their impressive physical stature. But the Lord replies:
Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
Instead, the Lord had anointed the youngest and thus weakest son, David, whom his father did not even bring before Samuel for consideration, because of his internal qualities. In this way, David is merely an archetype of Christ Himself. In contrast to handsome images portrayed in popular portrayals of the Savior, we learn from Scripture that:
He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsake of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face (Is. 53:2-3).
The life of Jesus exemplifies the kind of humility that qualifies true heroes, the quality of character that does not grasp after power but uses power to serve. “But whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man [a royal, Messianic title] did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).
Stories like Captain America and The Lord of the Rings remind us indeed that “The meek shall inherit the earth.”