So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them: "I'm here to introduce you to this God.... He doesn't play hide-and-seek with us. He's not remote; he's near. We live and move in him, can't get away from him!" ~Acts 17
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Heroes, redemption and community: Something comic book stories tell us about our own Story
Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
Friday, The Avengers will hit
theaters. It is the first—and, if its current 96% fresh rating
at Rotten Tomatoes is any indication, potentially the best—of several
anticipated blockbusters based on comic book characters expected to draw record
crowds this summer. So, what is it about these stories that draw us in such
isn’t simply the action-packed adventure. Like all good stories, we are drawn
to them because they speak to our human condition. In a
2004 Christianity Today article,
Frank Smith writes, “These characters may have super strength…. But their inner
battles (and their struggles in spite of them) to right wrongs and take up the
challenge of evil are our own—albeit writ large, colorful and on a grand
scale.” In their stories, we see our own.
recent Guardian piece, Tom
Hiddleston (who plays Loki in The
Avengers) hones in on something our stories share that I resonate with in
particular: “The possibility of redemption is right around the corner,” he observes.
In comic book stories, redemption is a key theme and almost always involves a
radical life change. Not only are the heroes saved from something, they are saved to
something. And this reminds us of something important about own Story.
Tony Stark is one of my favorite examples of this. Granted, Stark is definitely
a “work in progress,” but perhaps therein lies the draw. In Iron Man, Stark’s
heart undergoes both a literal and figurative transformation when his
proximity to an explosion requires that a device be implanted in his chest to
keep metal fragments from piecing his heart and killing him. This experience
both transforms his physical capabilities (the device eventually powers the
Iron Man suit) and the kind of person he becomes. Faced with death and his
culpability in the use of weapons his company designed, Stark rethinks his
self-centered way of life. Essentially, he repents—or as Mark
Scandrette puts it in Soul Graffiti,
“rethinks his thinking.” He becomes a different kind of person; he rejects his
old way of life and starts working out a life prioritized by protecting others
and righting wrongs.
comic book stories, however, redemption almost never takes place in a vacuum. Tony
Stark needs the Avengers. His life
change will be honed and shaped in a community of people who have extremely
different gifts but share a common mission. Communities like the Avengers—or X-Men,
Justice League, etc.—recognize and develop gifts of each of their members, encourage
each other to live responsibly, and work together to help and protect those who
may even despise them. Individually, their gifts are often powerful but what
they can do individually is nothing compared to what they can do as they learn
to work together—something Stark must work out in his new, redeemed life.
this echoes our own Story. Our redemption is not simply a saving from sin and death but also a saving to a new life, one which we were created
for and now enabled to live. But it takes some working out. Like the comic book
superheroes, our new lives reconcile us to some but put us in conflict with
others. Our new lives require an ousting of self-centeredness, embracing of sacrificial
choices and head-on confrontation with injustice, oppression and systematic and
individual evil. But we aren’t meant to work out our redemption alone. We were
created to live and work together, a people with the common mission of working
together with God to restore a broken world.
course, the parallels break down. In comic book stories, redemption is often approached as earned. In our Story, redemption can’t be earned but simply received.
And with that redemption comes the indwelling Spirit—far greater than any
super power—which shapes our communities and response to injustice, oppression
and evil in radically different ways than that of the X-men or Avengers.
appreciate how these stories remind us that redemption is a transformation and
how vital and intricately connected community is in working that out—and that
brings plenty of God-talk into open spaces.