Heroes and Superheroes


Movies about heroes and superheroes abound. Recently we’ve had Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, new Superman and Batman series, X-Men, and numerous animated offerings like The Incredibles, Megamind, and the live action Avengers. Apparently there is (or was) a TV series about a family that gains superpowers, “No Ordinary Family.” There was a TV series called “Heroes,” about people who had some kind of mutation giving them strange powers. There are even heroes who aren’t super in terms of their internal powers (like Superman) or their “Wonderful Toys” (like Batman).

Sometimes heroes are spies like James Bond, sometimes men who seem ordinary but get thrown into circumstances where they must rise to heroic stature. People like the characters John Wayne or Harrison Ford or Bruce Willis play in movies are just do-or-die, never quit, slightly larger than life men who can’t give up until the bad guys are all gone, however bloodied and beaten this kind of hero ends up.
Rather than write a review about any or all of these particular movies, some of which I’ve seen and some I haven’t, I’d like to make some observations about what the heroes man creates tell us about man himself. First, none of these heroes or superheroes that I have seen or read about have any consciousness of God. It is scary how absent God is from any of these heroic endeavors. Even John Wayne, a real American Hero, performs his heroics largely without mention of God. Harrison Ford in
Witness makes a woman who falls in love with him choose between her religion and him. Our American heroes, super and otherwise, sadly can’t seem to coexist with God.

Not that they don’t need Him. Most of these heroes are very flawed creatures in spite of their “powers” or their plain old courage and resolve. They are alcoholics, they have destroyed their marriages or family relationships because their uniqueness, they must choose between a normal life and their duty. They put their loved ones or comrades in danger just by being what they are in many cases. They must lie to protect their secret identities or conceal secrets related to their work. Frequently they are reluctant to get involved, even start out as villains or drifters or criminals who typify the anti-hero so popular in American books and movies. If they are good men, they a villified as vigilantes and must fight the law and public opinion as well as the bad guys.

I think we as humans want heroes, but we are so far down the road of sinful thinking we can’t even imagine what they really ought to be like. Even if we go back to the Bible, we dredge up Samson, who may have been the model for most of the superheroes of ancient times and today. Self-willed, incapable of having normal relationships, getting his new bride handed off to another man and burned alive with her family, doing God’s will by coincidence rather than obedience, trapped more than once by his
uncontrolled lust and finally killed in a supreme act of selfish vengeance.

What about Joseph? There is no sin recorded in his life. People try to villify him as “Daddy’s Favorite,” coddled and petted, spouting dreams of dominance,  until his brothers’ jealousy understandably got the better of them. The truth is Joseph only told them what God told him. He didn’t conceal his identity as the chosen one God would use to save them all. They chose to hate him without cause. In Egypt Joseph behaved wisely, gained favor, and caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife, who had him thrown in prison when he wouldn’t sleep with her. In prison Joseph once again gained favor and his conduct shone out. His “superpower,” interpreting dreams, he freely attributed to God, not to his own knowledge or ability. And it got him a place as second in command of all Egypt, ready to save his family, even if it meant they had to bow down to him, just as he’d forseen. God did it all, and Joseph gave Him due credit.

Same with Daniel. He was hauled away from home as a teenager, just like Joseph, and served a foreign king in a foreign land all his life. Yet he was fearless in serving God, defying the order to eat the palace delicacies, the order to worship no god but the king, and openly attributing to God his “power” of dream interpretation. Daniel became the king’s advisor, secured positions for his three friends, attained power all the evil diviners in the kingdom couldn’t break. God did it all. We know that from beginning to end, even when Daniel goes headfirst into a cave full of lions.

Don’t care for these “perfect” heroes? How about Peter, the man who couldn’t stop his mouth from saying the most outrageous things, to the point of denying the Lord three times? Yet he became a powerful preacher, witness, a superpowered miracle worker. All because of God.  And he was a happily-married man. A man can have flaws, can be reluctant, can even go back to fishing, but God will make a hero out of him and get the glory.

Doubting Thomas, who couldn’t believe without seeing, remained an Apostle, got the same power all the Apostles got. John Mark, who deserted Paul, came back, and became “profitable [to Paul] for the ministry.” How about Paul the Persecutor? How many Christians were executed under his reign of terror as a Pharisee of the Pharisees? Some superheroes get their powers through catastrophic events. How about getting knocked off a horse and blinded by the glory of the Risen Christ? Paul got the power to persuade men and to heal their sicknesses and to suffer for God. Most especially, he got the power to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” Can any of us say we did everything God expected of us, all the witnessing, teaching, faithful service, total obedience? If that isn’t a superpower, I don’t know what is.

5 thoughts on “Heroes and Superheroes

  1. I just wanted to point out a few heroes that do recognize God. Captain America is refreshingly old-fashioned, and when Black Widow speaks of the Norse gods, he says, “There’s only one God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.” (In the context of the broader Marvel film universe, the Norse characters were held as gods by Nordic cultures on Earth but were really advanced humans).

    Solomon Kane, a pulp hero from the pen of Robert E. Howard (of Conan the Barbarian fame), is a Puritan vigilante.

    1. Andy Poole, I actually wrote this article some years before the Avengers movie came out. You are absolutely right about Captain America’s refreshing humility and perspective on God.

      It’s a pretty common perspective to say that ancient gods were advanced human or alien visitors, but I think that’s a secularist viewpoint. There are angels and demons, and some “superhumans” like the “mighty men of old, the men of renown,” the sons of Anak and Gathite giants of David’s time. These people are not explained except as possible descendants of Angels and human women intermarrying,.

      Also, I am looking forward to a better understanding of Solomon Kane. Thank you for your post!

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