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God & Christianity / Jesus

Christmas and Comic Book Heroes

Christmas and Comic Book Heroes

I’ve never been much of a comic book reader. I have, however, enjoyed many of the comic book-based movies from DC Comics and Marvel that have been popular in the last 10 years or so.

The popularity of these movies, which seems to drive Hollywood toward making more and more of them (perhaps not always good ones), makes me wonder why our culture is so interested in these films. Add to the superheroes and their story of fighting against some kind of overwhelming evil, all the various others like it. There’s Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and a variety of other enchanted worlds featuring vampires, zombies, werewolves and more. In all these, we see the power of immense evil against the feeble and tentative good, which nevertheless prevails (or at least with Game of Thrones, this is what viewers continue to hope!).

What is it with these sorts of stories, that they are able to get a hold of our attention? What makes them all so attractive?

I wonder if it is perhaps the fact that we, as 21st century Westerners, live with a fairly flattened, disenchanted, scientifically bland reality. These films and stories present a very different world. In them is magic, mystery, a cosmic battle between good and evil, a hope united around a common good, and (usually) a happy ending in which the plot resolves in favor of the “good” and the salvation of all from whatever sort of evil was threatening.

In our world today, beyond the fact that we not only can explain away most things that appear mysterious (e.g., the rainbow), we pride ourselves in it, we also experience significant chaos that often produces feelings of being out of control, hopelessness and despair.

This got me thinking about the “incarnation”—the Christian story about how God became a human, like one of us. The story of the incarnation is really a story about a hero. It involves a fight between good and evil, right and wrong, light and darkness. It’s a story about a world that is up against the odds, hoping against hope that a hero might save them.

In this story, the great enemy is human sin. God, the creator of all humanity, called upon his creatures to be holy—perfect like he is. But this was impossible. Try as they might, no human was able to achieve the standard that God set forth. It was if evil had already won and was found already at work in the lives of humans to prevent them from living in any sort of way that might win God’s favor. So they needed a hero.

And that hero came in the most unlikely form. He was a Savior born just like every other human. He emerged from his mother’s womb feeble, weak, crying, and needy, just like every other child. But he was not like every other human. He was special. He was conceived in a mysterious manner, his mother becoming pregnant not in the normal way, but by the power of the Spirit of God. His life was a marvel. At a young age, he was deemed as wise beyond his years by elite members of his culture. He later performed miracles, turning water into wine, healing the sick and blind, and even raising back to life those who had died.

But those who were in charge during his lifetime were afraid of him. The message he proclaimed about the coming of the kingdom of God undermined their authority and offended them. So they killed him. But he was no mere man. He was the God-man, Jesus Christ. And to prove his identity, God raised him from the dead three days later. And everything changed.

Perhaps you think this is just a story Christians tell. Maybe you doubt Jesus even existed, or maybe you think the man whose birth instigated the Christmas celebration was just another wise teacher to go down in history. When Christians say Jesus is God or that he saves them from sin and evil, maybe it sounds like a narrative and a philosophy that happens to work for people who grew up with it, or people who need help facing their weaknesses.

Those are good challenges to raise, and I won’t pretend they have simple answers. But this Christmas, I’d like to humbly propose a question of my own: what if our modern interest in hero films and books is an echo of our awareness that some kind of battle needs to be fought in the real world, and we need a hero?

In the most unexpected way, I believe Jesus became the hero we needed. The incarnate God, Jesus the God-man, took on the greatest evil the world knew in a cosmic battle for the fate of humankind. And he won. The consequence of sin in the world meant death would swallow us all. But now death itself was defeated and put to death when Jesus came back to life, and offered to share his victory over sin and death with us.

I believe on Christmas, we celebrate the day our real hero came to earth. I’m not asking you to take my word for that. But the next time you find yourself drawn into a hero story, maybe pause for a moment or two and give it some thought.

This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts from Christians at THRED about God coming to earth in Jesus, you can find those over here.

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Chad Lakies teaches Religion at Concordia University in Portland, OR. He’s into coffee, beer, drumming, video games, and buying more books than he has time to read.

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