TELEVISION: Daredevil – The Complex Faith of Matt Murdock

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR DAREDEVIL & THE DEFENDERS AHEAD.

Daredevil is unlike most comic book superheroes. He’s a clearly religious character who doesn’t seem to hide his faith and is certainly not afraid to question it. This is part of what makes Matt Murdock aka the Man Without Fear, incredibly complex and inspiring.

Matt Murdock, played brilliantly by Charlie Cox on the Marvel/Netflix Original Series, often owns up to his faith. It’s a clear part of his journey to become “the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” in the series’ first season and remains a part of him throughout the second as well as The Defenders mini-series (there are various instances where different characters bring up Matt’s religion), but in this third installment into the Daredevil saga, it’s front and center.

“In front of this God, I’d rather die as the Devil than live as Matt Murdock.” – Matt Murdock

Season Three starts off with Matt being nursed back to health in Saint Agnes Orphanage, the orphanage Matt grew up in connected to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, by Sister Maggie Grace. Matt is broken, in a true “crisis of faith”, mourning the loss of Elektra Natchios and the loss of his hearing in his right ear. He has forsaken his identity as Matt Murdock and is set on solely being Daredevil.

But not for God.

No, Matt believes he’s seen “God’s true face”. In a scene from the first episode “Resurrection” (which you can watch below), Matt delivers a powerful speech on the Book of Job and how God “rained shit and misery on the life of his most perfect servant”. The problem is, Matt, like many Christians, doesn’t actually understand the story. Better yet, Matt hasn’t really read it.

In the first chapter of the Book of Job, Satan makes himself known before God. God tells Satan that Job, his “most perfect servant” as Matt calls him (remember, Job wasn’t perfect, God even calls him out on this fact later in the story), honors Him in all he does. Satan then makes a wager, that if everything Job ever loved was taken from him, that he would curse God. So, God agrees and Satan proceeds to murder Job’s children, destroy his land, and eventually attack his physical body (though God does not permit the Devil to kill him). In all this, Job praises God, who he believes is still good, loving, and just, regardless of what the Devil is doing to him. Eventually though, as all humans do, Job reveals throughout the Book of Job that he eventually becomes angry with God and frustrated with his friends, who are convinced that God is punishing Job (clearly not true if you read the first two chapters). Eventually, God appears to Job and in the last few chapters, “puts him in his place”. Then, for some unknown reason, God restores to Job everything the Devil had taken away. In fact, He doubled everything that was taken from Job, and that’s where the book ends. I highly recommend studying the Book of Job thoroughly to get a good picture of the “point” if you will.

Through this, we see that Matt’s true enemy isn’t actually God, it’s Satan. The Devil.

The cross necklace that Sister Maggie hands to Matt in this episode, which he wears for most of the season, is a literal symbol of resurrection (hence the episode’s title) and provides us with a visual representation of the small light still within Matt. The hope that he might make his way back to God. In fact, one might even say that this motif is a symbol reminding Matt, and us, that God is still with Matt and, even after all his mistakes, still sees him as His servant. Just like Job.

Disclaimer: I am in no way condoning Christian violence. I believe the Bible is very clear about “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-40) and, even though there are times in Scripture where God commands acts of violence (such as the Old Testament), the New Testament seems to make it clear that “our enemies are not flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6).

“My delusion was thinking God had anything to do with it.” – Matt Murdock

In the second episode, “Please”, Matt revealed that he used to listen to everyone’s prayers when he was a child and that he believed that he was meant to help answer those prayers. In fact, much of Matt’s arc in the second episode has to do with prayer and the fact that many ask, “Please God”. Near the end of the episode, Daredevil goes to visit a man and his daughter (whom he had saved earlier) in the hospital, only for the daughter to “thank God” for him. Daredevil turns to this woman and tells her that God did nothing for her, that he was the one who saved her.

What Matt fails to realize is that God can use anybody. Even Daredevil. What Matt doesn’t understand at this point is that everything happens for a reason, that “God works out all things together for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28) and that the wicked will be punished (Psalm 34:21, among others).

The Book of Esther is an incredible book and one of my favorite stories in the Bible because throughout the entire book, the Name of God is never spoken. In fact, God Himself is never truly referenced nor does He insert Himself into the story. Esther is written that people might understand how God works behind the scenes. That not everything God does is “in your face”, but is often very subtle (something even even characters in Daredevil take note of).

In fact, as Matt regains his hearing completely, he learns that his nemesis Wilson Fisk aka the Kingpin, has been released from prison. Matt notes that “it’s interesting” timing and that it’s probably “just a coincidence”. The Book of Esther insinuates that the idea of coincidence doesn’t exist and should be replaced with providence.

Daredevil kind of insinuates this too.

“Forgive us.” – Father Lantom

When Matt learns that Sister Maggie is in fact his mother (coincidence or providence?), the woman who abandoned him and his father (we’ll get to that later), he, rightfully, gets angry. Unfortunately, that anger, that bitterness, warps itself into unforgiveness, causing a rift to form between himself and both Sister Maggie & Father Paul Lantom.

Unforgiveness is at the heart of most people’s (including Christians) issues, and often problems or illnesses can be takes care of by simply forgiving those who have wronged you. Jesus is very clear in Matthew 6:14-15 that if you forgive others, God will forgive you of your sins, but if you don’t forgive, you will not be forgiven. Matt believes, or at least in earlier seasons believed, that his identity, his calling as Daredevil is what would bring him redemption, in essence what would save him, but that’s false. The only thing that can save him is grace (grace being, ironically, Sister Maggie’s maiden name, another coincidence I wonder?).

But Maggie and Lantom are not the only one’s Matt can’t forgive. He also has a hard time forgiving Melvin, the man who made his “red devil” suit, for “betraying him” and making an exact copy of the suit for Fisk, that he might frame Daredevil. Actually, Matt comes really close to forgiving Melvin, and helping him escape incarceration, but he allows bitterness to get a hold of him at the last moment and leaves. Melvin’s girlfriend, his parole officer Betsie, goes so far as to compare Daredevil and Kingpin, saying that they’re essentially the same, thus sowing these seeds of doubt into Matt’s subconscious.

For most of Matt’s life, his forgiveness issues have been with himself. He believed that others could change (something else we’ll get to later), but was never able to forgive himself. In fact, when Jasper Evans (Nelson & Murdock’s first witness against Fisk who was coerced by Karen into testifying) is killed by Bullseye-masquerading-as-Daredevil, Matt can’t forgive himself and thus blames himself, as he does, for the murder.

Yet, we know based on previous seasons, his “one rule”, and Father Lantom’s funeral in the final episode (“A New Napkin”), that Matt, at his core, does believe in forgiveness, and it’s power, and thus ultimately chooses to let go of what he’s kept inside and take back his life, friends, and family.

“Everyone in Matthew’s life abandoned him. Including me.” – Sister Maggie

Tragically, from his childhood, everyone abandoned Matthew Murdock. His father, Jack, died because he refused to throw a fight. His mother, Maggie, left him when he was a baby. Stick, his mentor, left after training him (and recently died). And Elektra left him and later died, twice, in front of him. Though Foggy and Karen always stuck by Matt’s side (for the most part), these constant betrayals by those he let in hardened Matt’s heart and kept him distant from others.

We see that, usually, whenever someone finds out about Matt’s secret (that he is Daredevil) it’s by accident or something out of Matt’s control. Maybe this is so that he might humble himself and, like Job, realize that he is not in control? Rarely does Matt ever reveal himself, his true self, to anyone out of fear of being hurt, rejected, or abandoned. Once again, this is truly tragic, and there are many people who live their lives this way every day.

Matt, like many, thinks God has abandoned him. He believes that, like every other father-figure or love in his life, he has been abandoned by the One who knew him “before He formed him in the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5). And it’s made him cold. Cold towards others, and cold towards God. But the Heavenly Father hadn’t abandoned Matt, and never will.

We see in various instances that God has not removed His hand from Matt’s shoulder. Besides the motif of the golden cross around his neck, we see that God has re-united Matt with his friends, his family, and with a passion for justice. Real justice, not vengeance. We see that God provided Matt with someone on the inside of Fisk’s operation (Nadeem) to help expose the Kingpin, and even brought another (Hattley) after Nadeem’s death. One might even say that God “doubled his portion” after Satan had stolen the first (Jasper Evans), just as He did with Job.

Besides all of this, Matt miraculously survived an entire building collapsing on top of him at the end of The Defenders which lead directly into the events of this season, something everyone believed to be impossible. He also allowed him to be cared for by the only blood-family he has left, a woman who’s maiden name is exactly what Matt needed: “grace”. He even goes so far as to restore Matt’s hearing, thus literally healing a half-deaf man.

God is never far from Matt throughout Daredevil, he just doesn’t always realize He’s there. He speaks in whispers remember.

“We’ve talked so much about truth. You and I. My truth. God’s truth. Now it seems like all of those conversations were just a goddamn lie. – Matt Murdock

Matt’s fuzzy relationship with the truth complicates things, however. He has no problem condemning others for their actions or lies (Lantom, Maggie, Melvin, etc.), but refuses to receive judgement from anyone but himself. Matt continually lies to his friends and family (largely throughout the first two seasons, but also here) about being Daredevil, among other things, and yet the truth still seems to matter to him.

In the fourth episode, “Blindsided”, Matt steals Foggy’s identity and impersonates him within the prison he infiltrates. Matt’s relationship with the truth seems to be sketchy at best, especially in light of how vital learning the truth about others is to him.

This must be addressed in regards to his faith because Matt refers to “his truth” and “God’s truth” as two separate things, when in reality it’s “his delusion” and “the Truth”. Matt seems to believe that people have their own truths, that what is true for them might not be true for him, and vice-versa (an idea that many people, Christians included, subscribe to), but this isn’t intellectually honest, nor is it true.

Wilson Fisk’s truth is that he isn’t a criminal. That he’s a “good man” who has been changed by love. A man who is a victim of “fake news”. This is the “truth” he seems to believe and the “truth” he tells the public. Reality, however, the real truth, says differently. “Matt’s truth” knows that Fisk is a villain, that he’s dangerous, a monster, and hasn’t changed, nor can he. Matt’s “truth” believes that the only way to defeat Fisk is to kill him.

Obviously, elements of truth lie in both stories. Fisk has partially changed because of Vanessa (his refusal to kill the woman for her painting makes this clear) and Matt’s right about Fisk being a “monster” and that he must be stopped. But both of their “truths” include lies, lies that both characters tell themselves that they might be “righteous” in their own eyes.

This is why when Pilate asks Jesus, “what is truth?” (John 18:38), it’s a genuine question with a definite answer. Jesus claims that He is “the Truth”, and that apart from Him no one can know God (John 14:6). If this is in fact true, then there is truly only one Truth. This is a theological issue that Matt needs to address, and if he does, it will answer all of his questions about the nature of truth. It can do the same for you as well.

“Would you be honest with yourself. You put on that mask because it lets you feel alright with who you really are. It lets you hurt people. It makes you feel like it’s for something important. Something good. Maybe even for God. But that ain’t the truth. And we both know it.” – Matt’s Demons

The first few chapters of the Book of Romans makes it clear that mankind is inherently sinful, that it’s inside of all of us, that no one is good. Not one. But those who have been “born again” of the Spirit of God, consistently war against their sinful desires. Non-Christians can do this too (struggle with conflicting moral questions or judgments), just generally not for the same reasons or with the same results.

Throughout the third season of Daredevil, Matt struggles with his inner demons. These demons (whether literal or figurative) manifest themselves in two forms: as his arch-nemesis Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk and as his father “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock. Both ultimately telling Matt that he’s evil to the core, that he’s a criminal and can’t be changed. Both taunting, both helping him justify his “wrongs” and condemn his “rights”.

This is what demons do. They make you believe that good is evil, and that evil is good. Isaiah 5:20 warns those who call good “evil” and evil “good”, and it’s a warning that Matt seems to take to heart as he overcomes these wicked thoughts, choosing instead, at the last second, to do what is right.

His demons also take physical form, in a sense, through FBI Special Agent Benjamin “Dex” Pointdexter aka Bullseye, who is given a copy of Daredevil’s red suit by Fisk in order to frame Daredevil for murder. This visual, of Daredevil fighting “himself”, another Daredevil, is a powerful one in that we understand that Dex isn’t Matt’s true enemy this season, and in a sense Fisk isn’t either.

It’s himself.

Matt fights “another” Daredevil, a version of himself who had no faith to hold onto (Dex was also an orphan, abandoned by everyone, with no one but a dying mentor). Sister Maggie even remarks that Dex’s story sounds remarkably “similar” to Matt’s. Dex even survives multiple injuries that should have killed him, just as Matt often does. At the end of the season it’s teased that he will take on his own villainous persona in the future, denying his “identity as the Devil”, and, like Matt, finally coming into his own, discovering “who he really is”. Clearly, Matt chose the better calling.

Nevertheless, Matt’s demons, both mental and physical, are the true villains of this third season, and remind us, as Christians, that our struggle is “not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). Anyone who tells you otherwise, whether that they incite Christian violence or say that “Christians have killed people in the name of religion”, don’t understand what Christianity is about, nor, clearly, do those who they claim have “killed in Christ’s name”. James 1:27 is very clear, that “true religion before God” is that people care for the orphans and widows, and that people keep themselves “holy”, purified from the world. This is one of the biggest difference between true Christianity and Catholicism.

“Everyone has a shot at redemption. It’s a Catholic thing. That’s why Matt doesn’t kill people.” – Foggy Nelson

Most superheroes have that “one rule”. That rule being that they don’t kill. Some heroes who hold to this rule have at times broken it (Superman for example), but most more often than not, they hold true to their conviction. Daredevil is no exception.

Throughout this season, Matt makes the decision to kill Wilson Fisk. He truly believes that it’s the only way to end his reign of terror over New York City. But Matt can’t go through with it. Everything in him wants to, he even imagines at one point, but when the moment comes, when he’s defeated Bullseye and has Kingpin all to himself, he doesn’t. He refuses to give in.

Foggy attributes Matt’s “code” to his Catholic faith, to Matt’s belief that everyone, and anyone, can be redeemed. Matt has sometimes struggled with this belief in redemption (with Fisk and Frank Castle aka the Punisher, primarily), but seems to hold onto it for the most part. He decides to stay with Elektra at the end of The Defenders, even though it might cost him his life, because he believes she can be saved, and he chooses to trust FBI Agent Ray Nadeem, even after learning he had been working for Fisk because he also believes that Ray can be redeemed.

This ultimately stems from Matt’s upbringing. His belief that his blindness could be redeemed and used by God as a tool for good is a huge part of that, but also based on the stories of Christ that he would no-doubt have heard countless times growing up in the church orphanage.

But Foggy is wrong about this being a “Catholic” thing. It’s not. It’s a Christian thing. A Jesus thing. The Catholic part has nothing to do with it, and while this is admittedly another topic for another time (be it a blog or a podcast), Catholicism and Christianity are not the same, though they do share common themes and elements that cause most to believe that they are.  Though I can assure you they are not, this does not mean that there are not truly “saved” or “born again” Catholics. There are. I’ve known and loved them. But Catholic doesn’t mean Christian, and that’s a huge distinction worth noting.

Christianity, true Christianity, is this: mankind is broken, we broke ourselves, but God loves us anyway. He loves us enough to send His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, to redeem us of all of our wickedness, brokenness, and sin. All we must do is believe (John 3:16) and follow Him (Matthew 4:19). Jesus is our high priest in whom we confess our sins, not a catholic priest (Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 John 1:9). He is our mediator between God the Father and man, not the pope (Hebrews 8:6, 9:15, 12:24, 1 Timothy 2:5). The Catholic Catechism is not the inspired Word of God, the Holy Bible is. Scripture is clear.

Matt Murdock, for the most part, seems to believe this. At the very least, he believes that people can be redeemed, and that’s a good place to be.

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” – Father Lantom

Now, technically John Lennon said this, and Father Lantom quotes it to Karen, not Matt, but it doesn’t make it any less true nor important.

Daredevil ends it’s third season (and possibly, though hopefully not, it’s last) on a powerfully high note. Matt, Foggy, and Karen decide to go back into business together, Fisk is put away for good, Matt has triumphed as the one-true Daredevil, and Hell’s Kitchen is, once again, safe.

Even more than all of this, Matt Murdock’s faith has been rekindled. Yes, he still needs some work, but truthfully we all do. Matt’s being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, working out his salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13), just like any other man or woman of faith. He, unlike most of us, is just brave enough to admit his doubts, and that he’s still going through the process.

Maybe we need to be more like Matt Murdock.

Maybe we also need to be men and women without fear.

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