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The recent Marvel Studios movie Ant-Man and the Wasp is all about size. The two titular super heroes have special suits that give them the ability to shrink themselves down to insect size but gain super strength. However, Ant-Man has an added power. He can also grow to giant size. When using that ability, he becomes known as Giant Man.
There’s a scene in the film (shown at the end of this trailer) where the heroes in their civilian guises, Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne, together with Hope’s father Hank Pym, visit an old colleague and rival named Bill Foster. They need his help in locating a portable lab that has been stolen by the film’s antagonist, the Ghost. This lab will be instrumental in rescuing Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother Janet from a micro dimension known as the Quantum Realm where she was trapped decades earlier. Pym and Foster previously worked on a project known as Goliath, which allowed the latter to grow in height, living up to his namesake.
Intrigued by this, Scott asks Foster, “How big did you get?”
“My record?” Foster replies. “21 feet. You?”
“65 feet,” Scott answers him somewhat smugly.
“65?” Foster is both amazed and impressed.
Feeling like it’s becoming a measuring contest to see who is better, Hope quickly interjects. “If you two are finished comparing sizes…”
Scott acquiesces, but can’t resist shooting off a final comment to Foster just to rub it in and show exactly who is superior. “65,” he reiterates.
Although the movie describes a fictional situation, there’s a sense in which we naturally do the same with each other in our every day lives. We compare our achievements, heights, looks, abilities and anything else you can name.
While sometimes some competition can be healthy and it can spur us on to greater achievements, it can also be very unhealthy for us and can affect our self esteem, sense of worth or the way we look at others around us.
The recurring themes of comparison, envy and identity in Ant-Man
The above scene in Ant-Man and the Wasp might just seem like a throwaway gag. However, comparison is actually a recurring theme that has dominated Ant-Man-related stories in the pages of Marvel comics since his inception in the 1960s. In fact, the whole size thing is a metaphor for comparison. The Ant-Man films are very light-hearted entertainment, but in the original source material, his story is actually much darker.
Dr Henry “Hank” Pym was the original Ant-Man in the comics, and one of the founding members of the Avengers.
You’ve probably heard the two sayings “size matters” and contrary to that, “size doesn’t matter.” To him, size mattered a little too much. It became his identity. And not surprisingly, he had had a constant crisis of identity which led to him adopting multiple ones.
You see, Pym couldn’t help comparing himself to others around him, particularly the other Avengers. He was filled with envy for his teammates and their abilities, whom he believed were better than him. That’s why he couldn’t stick to one identity or set of powers. In an effort to prove himself and his worth, he went from being Ant-Man to Giant Man, and later Goliath, because of his inferiority complex. He lost sight of the value of becoming super small even though that was his secret weapon to begin with. Maybe height would give him an added advantage.
Finally, Pym took on the darker persona of Yellowjacket. Do you remember that villain in the first Ant-Man movie that Scott Lang fought at the end? The one in the yellow and black suit? That was Yellowjacket. In the comics, he wasn’t a separate villain. It was actually one of Hank Pym’s alternate identities. Yellowjacket was the result of a mental breakdown where Pym didn’t simply change his name or size from one thing to another. Instead, he developed a separate identity altogether that was unstable and prone to highly unpredictable, irrational and narcissistic behaviour.
The theme of identities continued, with different people taking up the mantle. Former criminal Scott Lang became Ant-Man later on, literally stealing Pym’s identity out from under him. Pym saw that Scott became a better Ant-Man than he ever could have been. Lang was more selfless and didn’t carry around the baggage of comparing himself to everyone, so he could concentrate on being a hero. He started off in a worse place, yet was soon ahead of Pym in the hero stakes. This too added to Pym’s envy.
Pym’s constant comparisons and struggles to feel needed and relevant eventually became his downfall. His lack of security in his own identity and looking at what everyone else had led to a breakdown of his marriage, betraying his teammates, being kicked out of the Avengers, spending a period of time in prison and an eventual attempted suicide. Such was the tragedy of comparison and envy in his life.
The problem of comparing ourselves to others
Although it is a fictional story, it still has teaching value. Any one of us can fall into the same trap as Hank Pym. Ant-Man in the comics serves as a cautionary parable of the dangers of comparison and envy. Comparing ourselves to others can have a profound and devastating effect on our lives and relationships.
Comparison will steal your joy away and leave you feeling more frustrated, bitter and ungrateful towards God.
How can we avoid comparing ourselves to others and avoiding some of the pitfalls of Hank Pym?
ANT-MAN AND 7 BIBLICAL WAYS TO AVOID THE COMPARISON TRAP
1. Fix your eyes on God and not on others or yourself
When you fix your eyes on yourself, then it’s easy to see the lack in your own life. Becoming too introspective means that you look inwards instead of looking to a God who is bigger than your situation or circumstances.
When you look at others around you, you either end up seeing how far behind or far ahead they are in comparison to you.
In Numbers 13, God ordered Moses to send out 12 spies on a reconnaissance mission to survey the land of Canaan and report back on what they had seen. When they returned, 10 of the men were intimidated by the size of their opponents. They focused only on the size of the people and how strong they appeared. It seemed impossible to conquer the Promised Land.
The Israelite spies saw giants in the land. It is telling how they saw themselves in comparison:
“We felt as small as grasshoppers, and that’s how we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:33)
In contrast to that, the other two spies, Caleb and Joshua had their eyes fixed elsewhere. They didn’t see themselves as grasshoppers or their enemies as giants. Instead, they saw God and all He had done for them previously.
Caleb told the people to be quiet and listen to Moses. Caleb said, “Let’s go now and take possession of the land. We should be more than able to conquer it.” (Numbers 13:30)
Similarly, when the Israelites were up against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 17, they faced the giant warrior Goliath of Gath, who stood nearly three metres tall (which is about 9 feet). The Israelites were terrified to face him.
A young shepherd boy named David volunteered himself for the task of taking on the Philistine’s champion. He knew that he had already killed bears and lions while defending his flock. God would help him do the same against the giant.
Saul gave David his armour to wear in verses 38-40. However, David would not try to be someone else or wear another person’s armour. His source of strength was not dependent on the weapons he had but in God alone. This is where he fixed his eyes, rather than on the Philistine’s size and stature. Using only a slingshot, David was able to stun Goliath with a stone which struck him straight on his forehead before beheading him with the giant’s own sword.
Like David, we cannot wear someone else’s armour. We must be ourselves and rely on God’s strength even when we face giants.
As Ant-Man, Hank Pym ironically viewed himself like an insect compared to either his teammates or his enemies. He saw giants in the land and felt inadequate. But then when he became a giant, even taking on the name Goliath, this still didn’t help him. He often found himself defeated by smaller foes because he was too reliant on his size just like Goliath the Philistine. Size made no difference because his eyes were too often focused on himself and his own inadequacies.
When we do the same and fix our eyes on what other people have or what we lack, this will lessen our effectiveness. It will also erode our sense of peace and contentment to the point where we can never be happy about anything.
Hebrews 12:2 says:
“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” (GNB)
For more on this, check out my blog post on keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.
2. Recognise God’s grace in your life and get out of that entitlement mentality
Our tendency to compare can often come from a sense of entitlement. We believe that we deserve the same opportunities or things as others and demand our rights. We can also believe that other people who are not as fortunate as us don’t deserve certain things. When we don’t get what we want, or others get what we don’t think they deserve, we believe things are unfair.
Jesus told the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16 which was about comparison and entitlement.
A landowner hires labourers throughout the day to work in his vineyard. He agrees to pay them one denarius each. When evening comes, the landowner calls his foreman to settle their wages in reverse order of when the labourers were hired.
The foreman pays one denarius to the ones he hired last. When he comes to those hired early in the morning, they expect to be paid more, proportionate to the length of time they have worked. “Why should those who have only worked one hour be paid the same amount as those who’ve worked all day?” they grumble. After all, they’ve borne all the hard work and heat of the day. It only seems fair that they should be paid more.
The landowner responds in verses 13-15
“‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’”
The point of this parable is that God blesses all generously regardless of when someone has entered the kingdom. It might seem unfair by human standards, but we are looking at it through the eyes of comparison, envy and entitlement.
The denarius in the parable then is not dependent on how long or hard one worked. Instead, it’s about what the landownder has agree to give beforehand out of his generosity.
Romans 6:23 says
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Whenever we feel entitled, we should remember that the actual wage we rightly deserve would be death on account of our sins, for all have fallen short of the glory of God. However, because of God’s grace, the free gift of eternal life is there for everyone equally, regardless of whether they came to faith earlier or later.
Therefore, to continue the accounting metaphor, when we should be in the red but receive a blessing that puts us in the black, we should be grateful rather than complaining about why we didn’t receive more blessings instead. Similarly, when others are able to receive the same benefit as us even if they arrived later, we should rejoice rather than grumble.
Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t overlook injustice when you or others are genuinely treated unfairly. But that is a different issue. Entitlement is about demanding our rights with God and then resenting others who are the object of our envy. When we get off the entitlement wagon and recognise that we have what we have because of God’s grace, this will help us to see things from a different perspective.
3. Be grateful for what you do have and what God has given you
When we see God’s grace in our lives, this should make us more grateful. We need to practise being more thankful and acknowledging even the smallest blessings in our lives.
Hank Pym became dismissive of his own unique talents. Instead of being thankful for them, he felt they were worthless compared to others. His wife Janet, an heiress, was eventually the one funding his research and supporting him when he ran out of money. Instead of being grateful for that, he grew resentful of how small it made him feel.
When we complain to God about how He has blessed others, we question His goodness. When we declare that He is not fair, or that He never blesses us and always someone else, this erodes our own relationship with and trust in Him.
By contrast, when we speak out positive affirmations about God through praise and thanksgiving, this allows us to be more receptive to His grace. By speaking out truths about God in faith even if we don’t fully believe them at the time, this can also boost our own faith.
I wrote about speech acts in the Bible and the power of our words here. Check out also my article on why we should still worship and thank God even when we don’t feel like it.
When we practise gratitude, this helps us to see how God has worked in our lives. It focuses our eyes on Him instead of our circumstances or other people. This helps us to avoid the comparison trap while rejoicing in other people’s blessings.
4. Rejoice when God blesses others
Hank Pym was unable to enjoy his wife Janet’s success and popularity, or that of his teammates. This led to him become bitter and resentful. He felt disrespected by them and believed that they looked down on him. Because he was jealous, he projected his own feelings onto them. He was convinced they felt the same and that they couldn’t possibly be happy when something good happened to him. This systematically ruined all of his relationships.
Hebrews 12:15 says:
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
We can allow bitterness into our lives when we resent how others have progressed in areas where we’ve remained stagnant, or they’ve received something we haven’t. This can destroy our joy and peace, and our own relationship with God.
Learn to celebrate other people’s successes and rejoice when God blesses them. Be thankful that God is working in their lives.
Romans 12:15 says:
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
This is something we need to actively practise as a discipline. Doing this helps us avoid the comparison trap. It allows us to be grateful to God for the way He is working in other people’s lives. Their success is not a reflection of our inadequacy or failure, or an indication that God prefers them over you.
Matthew 5:45 says that
“God causes his sun to rise on both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”
Out of the generosity of His heart, God chooses to bless people whoever they are. Let us be thankful that He does that.
5. Try to see other people’s needs and bless them
When we continually compare ourselves to others and focus on our own lack, it’s easy to think that other people have everything together. It can seem as if they have the perfect life and that everything runs smoothly for them. We can start to believe that they never have any difficulties of their own.
Hank Pym was so convinced that he was inadequate compared to his Avengers teammates that he completely overlooked the fact that they all had their own problems. In his own mind, everything revolved around him and how he was the victim.
We can forget about the needs of others and be concerned with only our own needs.
When we choose to fix our eyes on God, that in turn helps us to see others as God sees them. We can then be outward looking not for the purpose of comparing ourselves to others but to see how we can bless them and meet their needs.
Philippians 2:3-4 also says:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
We often naturally want to do things out of selfish ambition to further our own career or status. However, this is not what the Bible teaches. Instead, we should seek to look to the interests of others and how we can help or serve them.
When we take our eyes off our own situation, we become less self absorbed. This allows us to be more effective either as disciples or leaders, and to see how we can serve others. We can seek to honour or prefer others above ourselves.
6. Don’t turn the thing you desire into an idol
It’s good to pray for certain things we desire. However, we can easily turn these legitimate things into idols when we don’t receive them, and they begin to consume us and our entire reason for existence.
In Exodus 20, when God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments, the first thing He says to them is to worship no other god but him. He also tells them not to bow down to any idols.
In his book Counterfeit gods, Tim Keller defines an idol as:
“… something we cannot live without… It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”
When we see that other people have something we don’t, we can start to make this the source of our happiness.
Hank Pym made his desire to feel respected, to feel relevant and to feel needed into an idol. These are legitimate desires in themselves, but he took it too far and made them the basis of his happiness and identity. Once they were taken away, he felt life was hardly worth living.
At the end of the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20:17 it says
“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.” (NIV)
This word “covet” encapsulates the idea of desiring something so strongly that we can turn it into an idol. When we compare ourselves to others, we often want what they want. We end up coveting what they have and turn to these things as the source of our meaning and identity instead of God.
7. Find your identity in Christ, not in what you do or who you are
Bound up with the idea of idolatry is our sense of identity. We think that these things we desire give our lives meaning and define who we are.
Acknowledgement and validation of our work is something we naturally desire. We want to feel special, loved and for others to see us as worthy in their eyes – not simply a nobody of no value whom others easily overlook.
Tim Keller writes in Counterfeit gods:
“If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.”
When we find our identity in Christ. That means that even if we feel we are in not as prestigious a job as someone else, or we have less than our friends, this is not a reflection of our true worth. On the other hand, if we are better off than someone else, knowing that everyone is made in the image of God will prevent us from allowing our ego to inflate with pride.
It’s not about what we do or who we are, but whose we are. Our value and importance comes by virtue of us belonging to Jesus.
Hank Pym’s story in the comics had a redeeming arc. After he had been released from prison, he eventually hit rock bottom. He felt his whole life was a waste and was meaningless. He had alienated all of his friends and family, and had lost his own dignity and reputation.
Full of despair and hopelessness, he bought a gun and planned to commit suicide. However, at the last moment, he was saved by the appearance of a Christian superhero named Bonita Juarez. Previously known as Firebird, she had now taken the name La Espirita. She had been praying and felt led to reach out to this stranger to bring him hope from God. Bonita showed Hank the value of his life, the difference he had made, the lives he had touched, and how his identity and true worth didn’t depend on whether he was Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath or Yellowjacket. It depended on who God said he was and whom God had created him to be.
Reinvigorated with a newfound sense of hope, Hank decided to become a superhero again. But this time he would not go by any of these other identities. He had spent his whole life trying to make his identity the source of his worth and to be someone he was not. Now he would be himself and use the skills God had given him instead of trying to compare with others. He would be known simply as Dr Pym.
When we are secure in our identity in Christ, we can rejoice in other people’s successes, stop comparing ourselves with everyone else, enjoy them for the people God made them to be and know that our true worth comes from our creator. We were bought at such a great price and are God’s treasured possession.
We can learn some lessons from Ant-Man and how he allowed comparison and envy to turn into a root of bitterness in his own life that destroyed his effectiveness as a hero. It’s easy to judge Hank Pym and think we’d never go down that route, but it can happy to any one of us if we allow comparison and envy to dominate.
If you want to explore this subject in more detail, check out my post on 5 Biblical examples of when envy and comparison killed relationships to see how different people in the Bible were affected by this.
Do you recognise any of yourself or someone else you know in the character of Hank Pym? Perhaps you find that you’re constantly comparing yourself to others. How do you overcome the comparison trap?
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Finally, I’ve put together a set of 48 Bible verses on comparison, envy and identity which you can print out and remind yourself of God’s truth. You can download this by entering your email below.
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.