Is Venom in Our Veins?
He was a journalist once. Eddie Brock investigated corruption, fought on behalf of the oppressed, and tried to make a difference in the world. He was trying to take down evil — until he was “taken” by it.
An alien, a symbiote, a hungry beast that devours flesh, Venom possesses an insatiable hunger for blood and violence. A parasite of power with an unquenchable appetite, the thing that first scares Eddie soon becomes a guilty pleasure, a redeemer, a friend. The alien monster, bent on survival and satisfaction, finds a companion in down-and-out Eddie. Although millions of miles from its planet, this destructive darkness finds a home in the human heart.
Allured by its power, Eddie tries to reason with it. But the parasite lives by a different rule: “We will do what we want.” In his dark suit, gripping a man by his throat, the creature answers who he and Eddie are: “We are venom.”
Are We Venom?
Rated the modern-day PG-13 (which means it would have been “R” a decade ago and I doubt 13-year-olds should see it), the movie is one of the darkest Marvel thrillers yet. Instead of starring a superhero, it stars an antihero — a villain that flirts with redemption while doing good things, for mixed motives, to villains slightly more nefarious than himself.
This antihero thriller/dark comedy features the relationship between the flesh-eating alien and its host, Brock. The dialogue between the two comprises the heart of the film’s intrigue. Something about it captivates. Notwithstanding its language and violence, the film seeks (however successfully) to be about humanity, the inner conflict in us all.
Like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that preceded it, Eddie Brock wrestles with the “inner voice in his head,” the propensity to evil within us all, which, here, is embodied in an alien life-form. The monster is fiction, but what it represents is not. The actor (Tom Hardy) says that his character learns how to negotiate an ethical framework in a world full of grey — like us. Brock’s story is all of ours to one degree or another.
What brings out the venom in you? was the question posed to some of the cast in a prerelease interview. This led Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed (the worse-than-the-main-bad-guy character) to confess their own impatience and anger. Ahmed even revealed his need to meditate as a way to combat his inner alien. They too have a dark side, confirming God’s depiction of them: they are sinners.
The hashtag the movie presents for its fans, #wearevenom, is spot on. The Bible tells us what we already know: venom lives in each of us. Maybe this is why the antihero genre (in movies and in television), as well as darker superhero movies in general, have gained traction in recent years. A peppy, law-abiding Captain America and an ethically unswerving Superman feel out of touch with reality — our reality. Deep down we know that the antihero is less of a disguise than the Marvel superheroes we might dress up as on Halloween. Even if we are knights, we are Dark Knights.
Doing wrong comes more naturally for our race. With minds bent towards lust, tongues that stab our closest relations, eyes fixed unflinchingly upon ourselves, fists that shake at their Creator, hearts that too often shelter our inner demons, we are Venom. And God agrees. Jesus came as Light into “darkness,” not because the sun had ceased to shine, but because humanity’s inner black casts a shadow on all creation (John 1:5; Romans 8:20–21).
Battling the Darkness
For some Christians, this Jekyll-and-Hyde, Venom-and-Brock split-persona plays into a common misunderstanding about our identity.
Most often, we might assume, the Christian is a lover of Jesus. He tries to spend time with his Lord, seeks to love his neighbor as himself, and shares the gospel when the opportunity arises. By all appearances, he is a committed follower. And he would say that he is — most of the time.
But at other times, he transforms into a creature that seems hardly human (Psalm 73:12). His innards contort, darkness crawls over his skin. “Satan’s signature seems to be written upon his face” (Stevenson, 18). He may maul family members with his words, feast upon pornography, or drink the blood of worldliness before his madness has run its course. In these times, he lives for himself and devalues his God. He has, for want of more dire vocabulary, become the old man.
After his depravity is spent, his venomous old-him disappears into the night, leaving the new-him to stew in the guilt and consequence. And because the alien lives in his shadow, he never has lasting victory (how could he?). He is two — a schizophrenic between good and evil, an antihero. He never can truly be sure if he is even saved — how can he enter the kingdom of heaven stuck to this monster? Is he free from sin or a slave to it (Romans 6:16–22)? Is he darkness or light? A follower of the Savior or of Satan (1 John 3:8–9)?
We may fear, with Eddie Brock, that the darkness will consume us too. We wonder how it will be for us when the hero returns to finally destroy evil. Will our darkness be taken from us, or will we be taken away with our darkness?
The Old Man
This leads to the point: The Christian no longer harbors Venom. By assuming that the old man still dwells within, we miss out on key aspects of our identity in Christ.
The world is full of Jekylls and Hydes. Although the Christian assuredly still battles with the flesh, he is not, at the core of him, darkness: “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). Paul, while knowing about struggles with remaining sin — this week’s fall and next week’s temptation— looks us in the eye and tells us this scandalous truth: you are light. Not partially light. Not a flickering bulb. Not a black hole. You are light.
We may be hesitant to own our new identity because we’re scared to take remaining sin too lightly. But such a caution was foreign to the apostles (and, through them, the Spirit) who bombard the early church (and us) with a singular identity. They audaciously call us saints (literally “holy ones”). Chosen by God. Beloved of God. New creations. God’s temple. Christ’s body. Lights of the world. Salt of the earth. Children of God. The aroma of Christ. Good trees. A chosen race. A royal priesthood. A people for God’s own possession. More than conquerors. Lovers of God. Faithful servants. Light. Children of light. Lights of the world. Co-heirs with the Hero of eternity.
Although Satan calls us unredeemable villains and our experience calls us antiheroes, God calls us his righteous ones. We are who he says we are. A butterfly may crawl around like a caterpillar for a time, but it cannot be what it once was. We are new creations.
Decisively Saved, Not Barely
The Christian will war with the flesh until he sees Jesus face to face, but darkness does not define him.
And this distinction is crucial for holy living — for as a man thinks, so he pretends to be. Grace’s new perspective teaches us to reckon ourselves as God reckons us as fuel to live as God calls us to live: “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Know you are light; then live as you are.
When we embrace what God says about us, we will take sin more seriously, not less. When we view ourselves as half-light, half-darkness, yelling at our roommate will not be altogether unexpected: it’s who we are. But when we see ourselves as God does, and as he has spoken, when we realize the actual newness of regeneration and the power of the Spirit dwelling within, we will consider sin out of place. Clean pants hate stains.
As unbelievers wrestle with who they are, know that in Christ you are not the antihero. You are not Venom; you are light. Don’t believe the lie that you must crawl into heaven as a barely saved, mostly depraved, darkness-enslaved, Venom-behaved Christian. God himself, not a depraved alien, lives within you.