Faith & Fandom
Steve and Tony: Iron Sharpens Iron Man
Steve and Tony: Iron Sharpens Iron Man
I’ve already publicly (and in print) apologized for my relatively negative or dismissive statements about Captain America and Iron Man way back in book 1. I’ve been writing these books since 2013, and honestly their characters (and hopefully mine as well) have tremendously grown. This chapter is going to look at the ongoing growth and development that took place between Cap and Tony, and hopefully show us some ways we can continue to grow in our own journeys as well.
While everyone has their favorite moments in Endgame, for me it wasn’t just a specific moment. It was the fact that we could now see the full perspective of how far Tony and Steve had come since we were first introduced to them in the MCU. Think way back to the scene in the first Avengers movie. Cap and Iron Man are beefing with each other aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. hellicarrier while being influenced by Loki’s scepter. They aren’t just being insulting towards each other. They are taking swings at their core values as to who they are as people. As tensions in the room are mounting, Cap goes in on Tony,
Cap: “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?” Tony: “Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist.” Cap: “I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage, the only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play. To lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.... You may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.” Tony: “A hero, like you? You’re a laboratory experiment Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle.”
They truly saw each other as the most shallow, hollow versions of themselves, and in reality, I felt that way about them myself for a time. Most of us have probably had people look at us that way at different stages in our lives, and maybe we have even looked at ourselves that way. People form their own opinions and decide who we are on very little evidence. Their opinion of you might be true for the one moment they observe you, or for the one negative thing that stands out most in their memory. Most people’s perceptions of anyone aren’t the full perspective. Most perceptions of others rarely even acknowledge someone’s potential. They may see you as a positive thought or a negative thought, but not the fullness of who you are.
You can’t always gauge who someone is by what you see right now. You also can’t gauge your identity based on what you see in your life right now. If you are in a place of success at this moment, you might see yourself as a success; on the flipside, if you are in a place of failure, you can just as easily see yourself as a failure. You are more than your circumstances. You are more than your struggle. When God looks at you, he doesn’t see you as Steve and Tony saw each other. God doesn’t look at you and only see faults, insecurities, and shortcomings.
There’s this story in the Bible about the weight and inaccuracy of us making judgement calls about who people are based on shallow perceptions and understanding. In 1 Samuel 16, the prophet Samuel is on his way to anoint the second king of Israel. God straight up told Samuel that He was sending him to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king and didn’t give him more detail than that.
“The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.” The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.” - 1 Samuel 16: 1-3.
God gave Him directions and then told him that He would show him the next step when he got there.
When Samuel got there, he sees a whole squad of Jesse’s kids. Based on one simple viewing, he decides he has found God’s chosen servant.
“When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” - 1 Samuel 16:6.
He hadn’t even spoken to these guys. Hadn’t conducted interviews or even tried on glass slippers or whatever. He summed up the whole of this man’s character and identity with no knowledge of who he truly was.
Some of you are living under someone’s superficial judgement call. Someone else decided your worth, whether it be positive or negative, and slapped a label on you. That’s not healthy. Even if we don’t believe the labels we get slapped with, they can still eat away at us and be constant catalysts for insecurities. When I'm re-watching the MCU films, I often wonder at certain scenes if the labels Cap and Iron Man put on each other weren’t lingering around in the darker parts of their hearts.
But the great thing is, that’s not how God operates. God responds to Samuel’s trigger-happy anointing with a correction.
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” - 1 Samuel 16:
God reminds Samuel that He isn’t in the business of appearances, but of actual character and integrity. We need to realize that not only should we keep this in mind for how we perceive others, but in how we allow ourselves to be falsely perceived as well. If someone doesn’t actually know the content of your heart or who you are as a person, then they will obviously have a flawed understanding of you. Don’t let that hold you back.
Someone who doesn’t know you may only see you as your success or failure. They may only see you as your best or worst. We are rarely just the peak and low moments; we are a combination and culmination of all the ones in-between. We shouldn’t be surprised when other people see us that way, but we have to be especially careful not to actually see ourselves that way. Cap and Iron Man didn’t get off to the best start. Sure, they were under the effects of Loki’s scepter, but those thoughts were still in there. But even though they had such negativity towards each other, they still worked together, even when it was painful. During Ultron, tensions are once again rising partly thanks to Iron Man by happenstance creating a malevolent artificial intelligence built on world destruction (a normal Tuesday for Tony). That also led to Scarlett Witch crippling the team with their darker sides or terrifying visions. When the dust settles, once again Tony and Steve are face to face breaking the ice, or literally breaking wood with each other.
Cap: “Earth’s mightiest heroes...pulled us apart like cotton candy.” Tony: “Seems like you walked away alright.” Cap: “That a problem?” Tony: “I don’t trust a guy without a dark side. Call me old fashioned.” Cap: “Well let’s just say you haven’t seen it yet.”
Even after their first conflict, they still chose to operate with each other. Even though they both had clear resentment issues towards each other, they still remained teammates. But it was still a struggle.
Cap didn’t like the reckless secrecy within Tony, and Tony didn’t like the fact Cap was too pure to be true. They saw things in each other they didn’t like, but even in that, what they saw in each other was a reflection of their own insecurities. It pushed them and caused them to never be too comfortable.
So many of us only give people once chance to hurt our feelings. If people we were close to spoke to us the way Tony and Steve spoke to each other, they’d get cut out of our lives. They’d be blocked, unfriended, and probably called out in a passive aggressive post on all the social platforms. They had so much they didn’t love about each other, but they kept pushing against each other because it made them stronger and kept them honest. It helped them see more than the inflated version of themselves that everyone else allowed them to be.
If the only people you allow in your life are the ones who sing your praises, you aren’t likely to grow and improve. Sometimes we confuse encouragement with only saying nice words that make us feel good. Sometimes encouragement includes having the areas you are flawed in pointed out so you can truly grow stronger. Sometimes encouragement is being pushed harder than you think you need to be pushed. Tony and Steve continued to push each other, and obviously the bulk of Civil War was them pushing against each other. They were both convinced that they were right, and they were challenging each other every step of the way. Their conflict started out as, “I don’t respect you,” and moved to, “I respect you, but you are wrong.” They were making progress, but they still both weren’t at the places they should be. They didn’t give up on each other, even when they were neck deep in conflict.
Even after all Tony put Cap through, Cap still left the “Stank” phone in Tony’s hands in case he ever needed him. They were willing to see the things they didn’t like in each other, and they kept pushing beyond them.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” - Proverbs 27:17.
No one likes being held accountable. No one likes being told they are wrong. We don’t like when our motives are questioned, or when our very thoughts and intentions are challenged. We don’t like being told there is even a possibility of us being at fault. Even though all of these things were true for their friendship, Captain America and Iron Man both became better heroes because they had each other. Their relationship was constantly filled with strife, conflict, and challenges, but it caused them both to rise up to be the heroes they were called to be.
They may not have always done it with intentional love or the best attitude, but it was effective for who they were, and who they were becoming. So, in that vein, I ask you this– who do you have challenging you? Who do you have in your life that actually calls you out when you are less than the best version of yourself? Who in your life will stand in your way when you are going down a path you don’t need to walk down?
In the climactic battle of Civil War, it wasn’t pretty. We saw the constant bashing of metal; we heard the conflict of shield clashing against suit. That’s a visual of what it actually looks like when iron sharpens iron. It’s rarely pretty, but it makes us stronger.
The people who have loved me enough to share hard truths with me have mattered more and affected my life more than the people who just tell me that I'm awesome. We live in a culture that thrives on instant approval. We all know something we could put on social media right now to garner lots of approval and praise from our given audiences. We know how to milk the responses we like. If I post a picture of my kids, baby Yoda, an enneagram meme, or food, I get instant praise. We can’t only do the things that bring us praise. We have to be willing to invite, and willingly take the things that challenge us.
Who do you actually have in your life that not only you can trust to sharpen you, but that they know they have the freedom to do so? Sometimes those relationships come naturally, and sometimes those relationships come because we know we need it and we seek people to take that role in our life. If you honestly want to grow as a person, the best thing you can do is to intentionally and actively seek people to sharpen you. You have to make the choice to seek out people to make you stronger and to see and pursue a better version of you.
Even after everything they went through all the way through Civil War, they knew deep down they could count on each other. The people who truly seek to sharpen you will show up after the conflict, noise, and thunder have taken place. They will still be there for you through all the pains and challenges of sharpening each other. Tony and Steve didn’t always have the best perception or attitude towards each other, but when truly needed, they could count on each other. When they finally linked back up in the infinity drama, they were able to shake hands and move beyond the things they disliked because they saw the value in each other.
As Iron Man stated, “Turns out, resentment is corrosive, and I hate it.” He understood that holding on to bitterness over someone who pushed against him wasn’t productive. We can’t look at someone as our enemy just because they disagree with us or challenge us.
“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”- Proverbs 12:1.
We know that by the end of the story, Iron Man became more than what Captain America identified him as in the first Avengers. He became the guy to make the sacrifice play; he became an actual hero. He was no longer just a man in a suit. If it had not been for the struggles and sharpening that Iron Man went through on his journey from being imprisoned in a cave with shrapnel approaching his heart to collapsed on a field in the middle of an intergalactic, interdimensional battle, then he would not have been the man that he was. He wouldn’t have become the respected and revered hero that the world and his teammates saw him as.
The people who challenge you are building you up, and the struggles you face are making you stronger. Even with Captain America, he became stronger and better through the trials he faced. Sure, he had less ground to cover than Tony, but he didn’t just become a better man. He became worthy. It’s my personal opinion (once again, just my opinion, nothing I can prove) that Cap wouldn’t have been able to pick up Thor’s hammer before Endgame. I believe the struggles Cap went through (especially the fact he had to continue supporting people even after they lost the Infinity War) played a huge role in him becoming worthy. He lost a war that cost billions of lives across not only earth, but the universe.
He didn’t quit. He shepherded people at their most desperate times, and he was a better man because of it. You can see Mjölnir budge just a smidge in Ultron when Steve tried to move it, but the struggles that Steve went though made him stronger, and I believe, worthy.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”- James 1:2-4.
Iron Man and Cap’s struggles made them better men and heroes. The things we go through will make us stronger and better as well. I don’t feel joy in the face of struggles by default. When things are hard and I’m struggling, I feel depression, frustration, desperation, and the desire to eat 3 pounds of gummy bears. I feel a lot of things in the hard times, but not often joy. That’s where it helps to keep this perspective before us.
When you are facing obstacles in your life and you can know with confidence that you will be stronger on the other side of the challenge you are facing, it makes it so much easier to endure. Wherever you are in your journey, it helps having people in your life to push you to be your best. Also having people who will walk beside you through the struggles is essential.
Every time people who care about you clash against you, know that they are making you stronger. They aren’t clashing with you to antagonize you, but to push you to be the best version of yourself. Appreciate those people, and don’t resent them.
Be that person for others. When you see someone in your life that needs to be sharpened, be willing to step up. I’m not saying you need to hurl a brightly colored shield at their head or hit them with a repulsor blaster, but we can all benefit from people who are willing to challenge us.