Is Indiana Jones a Hero?

There were three fictional characters I wanted to be when I was young: Fox Mulder, Han Solo, and Indiana Jones. They were everything I wasn’t — cool and confident, always up for adventure, and irresistible to the ladies. Mulder and Solo faded with time, but Jones stuck with me. He wasn’t an outcast like Mulder and he never get soft like Solo.   Indiana Jones was the true hero. I would imagine myself breaking into ancient temples with a hat and stubble, eye on the treasure, whip at the ready.

When I found out Indiana Jones was coming to a theater near me in honor of its 35th anniversary, I had to be there. I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark at home and Last Crusade on the big screen. The movies were as great as I remembered, but something about Jones felt different. The first thing I noticed was the body count. Indiana Jones kills a lot of people on his quests. And he doesn’t just knock them over the head. The guy’s got a gun and he knows how to use it. I was surprised at how many of the kills were played for comic effect — Jones shooting the swordsman in Raiders; Jones shooting eight guys at once with a magic bullet in Last Crusade. These are funny scenes, but are they?

Suddenly I didn’t know anymore. Who was this guy that fascinated me so much in my youth? How does he fight, and what is he fighting for? When all is said and done, is Indiana Jones a hero?

Heroes Are Servants

The only litmus test I know for heroism is the life of Jesus. Jesus came to earth as God in the flesh and lived a perfect life — a life he commanded us to emulate. If God is sanctifying us day by day to become more like his Son, then that must be what a hero looks like, regardless of any preconceptions we bring to the table.

The most fundamental disposition of Jesus was that of a servant. Think about that. This was God revealing himself to humanity at the climax of the redemption narrative and he chose to appear as a servant. He could have come as a king with pomp and circumstance. He could have come in power with thunder and firebolts. Instead, he came to serve.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

Is Indiana Jones a servant? Servanthood is more about a state of mind than a list of duties. Maybe a better question to ask is how selfless is Indiana Jones? There are isolated moments where Jones risks his life for the ones he loves, but overall Jones is fiercely independent and loves to do things his way. In Last Crusade, Elsa gets mad that he kept his dad’s diary from her. He responds, “Knock it off, you’re not mad. You like the way I do things. My guess is dad found out more than he was looking for and until I’m sure I’m going to continue to do things the way I think they should be done.”

This is Jones’ m.o. In Raiders, he has a chance to save Marion from the Nazis. He rushes into the tent where she’s being held prisoner and starts to untie her, but then stops and ties her up again because freeing her would put his plans to unearth the Ark at risk. She protests, but he puts the gag back on her and leaves. Later in Raiders, Jones has the chance to save Marion again, but he lowers his weapons and allows himself to be captured because he wants to see the Ark opened up.

The most important things for Jones are protecting himself and the prize he’s after. He’s hesitant to trust people and rarely takes anyone else’s ideas under consideration. Jones does things his way and he’s not ashamed to admit it. This may appeal to our American sensibilities, but it doesn’t match up to Jesus.

Heroes Are Peacemakers

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The Jews were expecting Jesus to lead them in a violent overthrow of the Roman Empire, but that was never part of the plan. After his triumphal entry, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and exclaims, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” He preached love, not just for friends and family, but for enemies. And when Peter raised his sword to protect Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus disarmed him saying, ”Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

Christian pacifism is gaining more acceptance in the Church these days, but many still view the concept with contempt. Not that the view is a new one. It was the default position of the Early Church. I’ve outlined my thoughts on the subject here and here, but I know a large number of Christians remain unconvinced. There are “gotcha” arguments to be made on both sides of the debate, but if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that if you’re going to use lethal force, it better be for a good reason.

Unfortunately, Indiana Jones doesn’t seem to put much thought into who lives or dies at his hand. If you fight him, he’ll kill you without hesitation. Most of the time, this is in service of the treasure he’s seeking, which isn’t a good reason at all. But there are other times where Jones kills to protect the ones he loves. That’s a much better reason, but does it stand up to biblical scrutiny?

Jesus boldly declares that our allegiance to him should surpass all other ties – our jobs, our possessions, our friends, even our own families (Luke 14:26). John Howard Yoder proposes in his book What Would You Do? the idea of protecting my family at all costs is actually a subtle form of idolatry. Should we really be willing to put down the cross and pick up the sword for the sake of our family?

Am I suggesting we should let someone come into our house and slaughter our family? Not at all. I’m saying that we should place our trust in something actually worth trusting in. Not a gun, but the God of the Universe. Psalm 44:6 says, “Not in the bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me. But you have saved us from our foes and have put to shame those who hate us.” We should also not be willing to compromise everything we stand for in the heat of the moment. If someone breaks into my house, I want my two-second response to be a prayer to God for an outcome that brings peace both to family and the stranger in my home who belongs to another family.

This cuts to the heart of the enemy-love we’re commanded to have as Christians. Jesus embodied this on the cross. While we were still murderous wretches, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). Would Indiana Jones die for a Nazi? Would we?

Heroes Are Anonymous

The promos for the return of Indiana Jones to theaters consisted of all the times where a character says “Jones” in the series. Jones’ name is at the tip of everyone’s tongue in the films. Like Jones says in Last Crusade, “I’m like a bad penny. I always turn up.”

Being popular isn’t a bad thing, but for those following Jesus’ radical call to servanthood and cross-bearing, it’s a rare thing. There are many exceptions to this, of course. For example, Pope Francis, who is a walking embodiment of everything Jesus stood for, has 9 million Twitter followers.

Still, as a general rule, people who take Jesus’ words seriously aren’t thought of too highly by society. In fact, the majority aren’t noticed at all. They live in the background, quietly living out their daily walk, ignored, or looked on with suspicion. In Jesus’ Kingdom, the first are last and the last are first.

C.S. Lewis captures this beautifully in his book The Great Divorce. He writes of a woman named Sarah Smith who lived an ordinary life, overlooked on earth, but a Saint in heaven. She spent her life loving everyone around her. Lewis writes, “Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.” She loved the animals too – “Every beast and bird that came near her had its place in her love. In her they became themselves. And now the abundance of life she has in Christ from the Father flows over into them.”

Now she spends her days dancing with her “children” in eternity, her face shining like an angel. Lewis concludes, “Already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder lady to waken all the dead things of the universe into life.”

The question we must ask is why are the Indiana Joneses and John McClains and James Bonds of the world more exciting to us than the Sarah Smiths? We seem to innately understand brute force, kill or be killed, and protecting those we love. But loving enemies, giving our money away, and sacrificing for the poor seem strange ways to live. This is why the spiritual disciplines are so important. We’re receiving the wrong messages 24-hours a day. We need to constantly re-center ourselves back into the Kingdom way of life where the nobodies are heroes and Jesus is Lord.

Heroes Love Stories

This is the part where Christian film critics tell you to avoid Indiana Jones because it doesn’t line up with biblical truth, but I think God wants us to have thicker skin than that. These are some of the best action-adventure films of all time. Enjoy them. And at the same time, critique them. We should be able to engage the culture without compromising our beliefs. Granted, some things should be avoided altogether because they only offer harm. But contrary to the thinking of some, the majority of Hollywood filmmakers aren’t making movies with perverse intentions. They just want to tell great stories. And great stories always have value.

If the Gospels are any indication, Jesus loved stories. They were his primary teaching tool. Maybe that’s why the greatest stories always point back to him. Indiana Jones may not be a hero, but his failings make me appreciate Jesus even more. Indiana Jones always puts himself first. I serve a God who washes dirty feet. Indiana Jones kills his enemies. I serve a God who dies for them. Indiana Jones is always at the center of the action. I serve the God of the “mustard seed” Kingdom, small and disregarded, but growing into unspeakable glory.

Indiana Jones reminds me of a treasure worth more than the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail combined – the treasure of knowing Jesus, the greatest hero this world has ever known.