Nobody loves a good hero yarn more than me. I’m serious. As evidence I will offer you this hastily taken photograph of just one wall of my private office.
See what I mean? While my absolute favorites are told in graphic formats and wear brightly colored costumes, I really love them all – James Bond, Jack Ryan, Mitch Rapp – virtually any 1980’s Schwarzenegger move – I love ’em all. But there are two important lessons I learned in my massive consumption of hero tales.
The first important lesson, one I learned long, long ago, was put most pithily by one of the heroes in film “Marvel’s Avengers”
Heroes and God are very different things – no matter how powerful the hero may be. The second lesson I learned in my studies of and life with God.
Heroes save the day – God saves the world. Moreover, God saves the world in rather unheroic fashion. There is no fancy device that undoes the bad vibe , no spectacular death of the villain, no Deus Ex Machina to set all to rights once again. Rather God saves us so that we can get about the business of saving the world in His name.
So many were disappointed in Jesus’ ministry because He did not foment political revolution against Roman tyranny. It is commonly believed that such was why He was betrayed. Those that came after spreading His message often were revered in the communities they served in hopes that they would take the political action Jesus did not action. Yet the Apostle Paul said to the church he planted in Phillippi, a church longing for his leadership in times of persecution:
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. [emphasis added]
The way to fix their problems were not in the politics of the day, or in the magic of their great founder and leader, but in the re-creation of the self offered by a Messiah crucified and resurrected. God fixes the world by fixing us and then giving us the task of fixing the world.
It has been said often that the madness that is this election cycle is the result of a nation, knowing it is deeply troubled, in search of a savior. That makes sense to and resonates with me. But a savior is not a hero. There is no deus ex machina that will fix what so deeply ails our nation – only we can do that. (Well, with help from the Almighty.)
Many times in the comic books, the heroes want to stick around after they have saved the day. They want to help rebuild the community that was plagued to the point that their intervention was needed. But in the better such yarns the community chases the heroes away. “Thank you so much for turning the robot from Planet Z into a pile of extraterrestrial slag – but this is our home and it is up to us to rebuild it.” I wonder if we are still like that in this nation, or do we now order our salvation like we order our take-out? But if God does not think that will work, why would we?
We do not need a savior in this election and the Messiah has already been here. In point of fact, like the communities in those comics I love so much, I think the time to chase the heroes away has come. The nation elected a hero last time – that is pretty much what has gotten us into this unholy mess. Switching out Superman for Batman is not going to help much.
It is high time we became the heroes of our own stories. The place to start is by heeding the advice Paul gave the Philippians centuries ago.