Gems of Wisdom from Luke Cage

Never backward, always forward. Always. – “Pops” in Marvel’s Luke Cage

In chapter six of his book, What we talk about when we talk about God, Rob Bell argues that although many people view God as a force seeks to drag us back to a more primitive existence, God is actually pulling us (and the rest of the world) forward towards greater levels of humanity. As humans, however, we seem to have a tendency to look backwards to past hurts and regrets in a way that can draw us back into that time and place with all the raw emotions that go with it. Unhealthy fixation on past injustices can kindle feelings of hopelessness and/or a desire for revenge. A healthy response, on the other hand, acknowledges past trauma from a safe emotional distance, and acts as a launch pad for the future.

Recently, I stumbled upon a great article by Kadeen Griffiths on the significance of Pop’s mantra in Marvel’s Luke Cage, “Never backward, always forward. Always.” As Kadeen notes,

The motto of “never backward, always forward, always” encourages us to shut the door on our past and focus on our futures. It asks us to let go of that which we cannot control and focus on bettering ourselves, our circumstances, and our communities a little bit every day.


Pop’s mantra challenges us to move forward into the future, as we strive for a greater life, unencumbered by past injustices and betrayals that continually seek to drag us backwards. In fact, while our hero, Luke Cage, embodies this ideal of letting go of the past to strive for a greater future, his chief antagonist, Diamondback, harbors resentment and a lust for revenge against Cage which is fed by Diamondback’s fixation on the painful relationships he had endured with his father and Luke. Moral of the story: Looking back can burden us with contempt and anger, while moving forward releases us from these burdens.

The problem with Pop’s mantra is that it is too simplistic. If we were to truly commit to fixing our gaze upon the future, without any sense of where we’ve come from, we become floating blobs on a historical timeline with no source or identity. It is our identity that enables us to move forward in a positive direction that is true to ourselves and others around us. For me, this concept is communicated through Luke’s modification of Pop’s mantra to “sometimes backward to move forward. Always.” We want to acknowledge and appreciate our past in a way that doesn’t drag us backward, but rather empowers us to move forward.

For the Christian and Jewish traditions, the Kingdom of God is the ultimate reality towards which humanity is striving. The Kingdom of God envisions an ideal world characterised by peace and justice which is unfolding throughout history. For the Jewish people, their past identity as slaves in Egypt represents a place to which they never wish to return. However, the Jewish tradition always reminds its adherence of their past servitude, and their liberation from slavery in the Exodus, as a means anchoring their identity and ensuring they continue to move forward, never backward. Rather than generating spite and hatred against their former Egyptian overlords, the Exodus narrative serves as a narrative of liberation for the Jewish people, which reminds them of where they have come from and the unlimited potential which the future holds. I suspect we all need a narrative like this to ground our identity and empower us to move forward.

images: Netflix and Factmag


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