"Strange" Emotions: 5 Very Biblical Longings Embodied in Superhero Movies
Last week my son and I finally made it to a showing of Doctor Strange. We are superhero movie fans, and this block-buster did not disappoint. We had a great dad-and-son outing.
In recent years, it seems the world needs to be saved all over again every few months, and Marvel Studios and DC Entertainment are more than happy to take our money as we witness yet another deliverance. DC’s Superman and Batman are making Cs and Ds at the moment, but Marvel keeps building on its success and building its universe with Avengers like Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Ant Man, and now Dr. Strange. Myth-making is big business.
Most of these stories share a common arc. A main character goes through a major crisis. Iron Man gets captured by terrorists; Captain America is a wimp and can’t go to war; Thor gets banished as a normal though really hunky human; Hulk is a scientist whose experiment goes really wrong; Ant Man is cut off from his daughter by a criminal past and lack of money; Dr. Strange, a surgeon, drives like an idiot and destroys his hands; and Spiderman is caught in the angst of being a nerdy high school student. Do we see a pattern here? But something happens. Some event takes place that transforms each into someone superhuman who can do things that need to be done to save themselves and everyone else.
From ancient times, we as human beings have had a fascination with superheroes. The Greek gods of ancient myth, for instance, were really super-humans. They were like us, with all our flaws, only much, much more powerful. The myths reflected human experiences and challenges. In short, the stories told people things about themselves as human beings. And our comic book heroes function in the same way. In an article entitled, “The Gospel According to Marvel,” John McAteer writes,
"Comic books function as myths—stories that interpret reality and our place in the world . . . As comic book writer (and Marvel’s executive vice president in charge of television production) Jeph Loeb explains, writing with the help of Christian philosopher Tom Morris, ‘The stories of these characters embody our deepest hopes and fears, as well as our highest aspirations, and . . . they can help us deal with our worst nightmares.’”
C. S. Lewis also noted that mythologies reflect our deepest longings. He suggested that in the person of Jesus “myth” became historical fact, and our longings were finally answered. In fact, it is fascinating how our superhero movies often reflect longings that parallel and are answered by a Christian worldview. Think about the following, and with each of the points, think of moments in your favorite superhero movie:
1. We long to be rescued and to play a part in rescuing others.
The Greek verb which means “to save” is σῴζω (sō̧zō). In the ancient world this verb could be used to refer to saving someone from shipwreck, or war, or a disease. But the New Testament uses it of God delivering us from the devastation of sin and estrangement from himself (Eph. 2:8-9; Tit. 3:5). And God gives those of us who have been saved, the task of sharing the very good news of deliverance with others (2 Cor. 5:20).
2. We Long for justice, for things to be put right in the world.
God is in the process of putting things right in the world through the advancement of his Kingdom; and ultimately he will bring all evil to justice, eradicating it completely (Heb. 1:13; Rev. 20:10).
3. We long to be more and do more.
A huge theme of Dr. Strange is discovery of the spiritual world. But that alone falls short of true Christian hope. Most people don’t realize that the great Christian hope is not to live forever as a disembodied spirit in heaven. Rather, at the end of the age, God will give his followers resurrection bodies that will be able to do all kinds of “superhuman” things, as superior to the frail bodies we have now as a mighty oak is superior to a nut (1 Cor. 15:42-43). Those bodies will be indestructible, and since Jesus’ resurrection body is the pattern ours will follow, perhaps they will be able to fly (Acts 1:9), or pass through walls (John 20:26). They will be more than the bodies we have now, not less. They will be able to do more than our bodies can do now. They will be fit for a new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:1).
4. We long for relationships with others in a common cause.
If you think about, our superhero movies are always about relationships, and those relationships often build around a common cause (except when the Avengers are fighting each other!). Similarly God has made his people a world-wide community with a common cause. 1 Pet. 2:9 reads, ““But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (NIV11).
5. Finally, we long for the world we love to be saved.
As I noted in point 3, God is not only saving us, the creation will “be set free from the bondage of decay” into glorious freedom (Rom. 8:19-21). Ultimately, only God can save the planet, and he has plans to transform it into something new (Rev. 21:1).
As we see such longings in superhero movies, we should rejoice that those longings have a beautiful, powerful answer in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Can you think of other ways the superhero movies manifest longings answered by the Christian worldview?