“I’ve got red in my ledger; I’d like to wipe it out.”We can’t call our musing about The Avengers‘ narrative themes “fully assembled” without addressing the most obvious line stated by Natasha Romanoff, admitting that she’s done some bad things in her past and wants to “settle her accounts”. We’ve dealt primarily with Loki–how he’s right, how he’s wrong, and how we’re a lot like him– but Natasha has a standout moment in the film as well.
While most of us probably don’t have her super-spy past– using her skills for the highest bidder without regard for right or wrong–and our deeds might not be considered by most to be as heinous, her conundrum is a common thread in our existence: we know we’ve done wrong, and we have some vague hope that we can add weight to some kind of cosmic scale and tip it once more on the favorable side. Call it balance, call it karma, but as Loki points out: call it elusive:
“Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Drakoff’s daughter? Sao Paulo? The hospital fire? Barton told me everything. Your ledger is DRIPPING– it’s gushing red– and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything? This is the basest sentimentality. This is a child at prayer. Pathetic… you pretend to be separate, to have your own code, something that makes up for the horrors. But they are a part of you, and they will NEVER go away.” – Loki
While it’s true that Natasha Romanoff gets to play a part in literally saving the world during the course of the Avengers film– or at least millions of lives in New York City– Loki raises a valid point. Does moving forward and doing good deeds heal all the pain for the people she’s hurt in the past? Does her valiant efforts for others comfort the families of the lives the “Black Widow” previously snuffed out? Does fighting to stop Loki bring those dead in her former wake, the intended victims and additional collateral damage, back to life?
Newsflash: people aren’t numbers in a ledger, and atonement isn’t simple math. Forgiveness isn’t just doing better next time, and although Natasha might be “paying it forward” now, how does that possibly pay anything backward? Loki doesn’t just mock her numbers and totals, he calls her whole worldview into question. Like a serpent in the garden, he spits out quite a few true statements… but then twists the ending, concluding that because she has NO way of truly addressing the “red”(atoning for her sins) and that they can “never” go away.
It’s the great answer we’ve all sought at one time or another, if we have any conscience left at all. We’ve all hurt others in some way– practically, physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually– and may be trapped in the same vicious circle as Natasha Romanoff, trying to reconcile our own life accounts, downplaying and justifying how we’re dealing with the red in our ledgers. Natasha sees her problem, and Loki rightly points out she’ll never settle her OWN accounts… but neither has an answer, and the film leaves it for contemplation
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” - Romans 4:7-8
Red in the ledger would equal debt, and this is exactly why Jesus Christ taught his followers to pray to his Father God in heaven, the famous “Lord’s prayer” in which we ask him to “forgive our debt, as we forgive our debtors”. A life of grace walks in the reality that Jesus died to forgive the red in our ledgers, to cancel the debt of sin and offer freedom and reconciliation not by our own merit. We don’t balance cosmic scales. True heroes are those not desperately seeking their own reconciliation, but walking in confidence and mirroring that God-initiated love and forgiveness by forgiving our debtors, by emulating that offering (as God has redeemed and forgiven us). Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray… And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. - James 5:13-15
It’s great to see a heroic and even powerful character wrestling (as we do) with just how her accumulated sin might be dealt with and how redemption works out… to realize her shortcomings, suffer the doubts we all share at one time or another, squirm under that gut-wrenching guilt and shame that pervades even as she tries to conceal it, bury it, or take comfort in imminent victories to offset the gnawing reality at the back of her brain.
While the Black Widow is fiction, here’s hoping those presently struggling like her don’t spend the rest of their lives caught in that never-ending battle.