Archives For Superman

SupermanMy all time favorite superhero is Superman. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He can shoot lasers from his eyes, blow tornados from his teeth, and who knows what would happen if he ever got indigestion.

Superman fights the unending battle for truth, justice and the American way. The Man of Steel never seemed to fly as high as when I was a boy. I wanted to be like him. I knew I could never fly or pick up a car; all I could really do was wear my underwear outside my clothes. So I did… (well, at least until Jr. High). When I was a child, I put on my Superman underoos and stood on the couch as I waited for those famous words to blast from our television. “It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” Although I never really understood why these first two guys were so excited about seeing a bird or a plane, I waited for my cue. “IT’S SUPERMAN!” Hearing those words, I would jump from the top of the couch and zoom around the room.

Superman JoeySuperman served as my paragon for living a selfless life, of being in the world but not of it, of doing the right thing even when it stirred resentment and criticism from others (cough, cough—Batman!). It is not a surprise, then, that as I grew up and begin to read the Gospels, Superman reminded me a lot of Jesus. Now I know I’m behind the curve when it comes to writing about Superman as a type of Christ; so I want to go the other direction. I want to write about how Matthew presents Jesus as a type of one of Israel’s veritable superheroes: King Solomon.

Typologies of Christ abound in the New Testament. The authors present Jesus as a new Moses, a second Adam, a modern Elisha, a contemporary Melchizedek and so on. You likely know most of these, but you may not be as familiar with the depiction of Christ as a new Solomon.

King Solomon, of course, was the son of David and Bathsheba. He was known as the wisest man that ever lived. His sapience was so remarkable that the Queen of the South traveled to visit and admire this king of the Jews. The Queen did not, however, come empty handed: she brought the son of David precious spices and abundant gold (1 Ki 10.10). And she was not Solomon’s only visitor; rather people from “all the nations” came from every part of the world to hear his wisdom (1 Ki 4.34—5.14).[1]

SolomonDespite his obvious blemishes in the rest of 1 Kings, Jewish wisdom literature and certain intertestamental works often exalt Solomon as their venerable champion. He even develops into a predecessor of Green Lantern. Seriously! In the legendary Jewish work written sometime between the First and Third Century called the Testament of Solomon, God gives the wise king a magic ring by which he subjugates all the demons in and under the world. (You can read it here,[2] I promise it is much better than the movie.)

With this general ennoblement of Solomon in mind, let’s fast forward to the First Gospel. Matthew begins with a genealogy in which he records five women. First, there’s Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. Then there is Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon—the wise heir to Israel’s throne. The woman who follows Bathsheba on the list is Mary, the mother of Christ—the everlasting King of the Jews. Matthew situates the next hint of the typology in the story of the wise men. These royal visitors come from afar; and—similar to the Queen’s gifts to Solomon— they bring Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In case we missed the typology before, Matthew makes it clear in 12:38-42. There, as Jesus castigates the scribes and Pharisees, he reminds them of Solomon and the queen. “She came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom:” and now…drum roll please…”one greater than Solomon is here!” Jesus goes on to place the religious leaders in juxtaposition to the foreigners who, like the queen, will come from the ends of the Earth to pay homage to one greater than their superman. Over against Solomon, Jesus is Wisdom incarnate (11.19), the preeminent philosopher king.

A few years ago, one of my toddlers climbed into my lap, put his head under my chin, and “cuddled.” After a few sweet moments, he broke the silence and said: “Dad, you’re the ‘bestest.’” Similarly—although the debate still rages as to whether Superman or Batman is better (despite the obvious answer!)—this typology of Christ as well as others in the New Testament demonstrate conclusively that above all the champions in history (real or imagined, DC or Marvel) Jesus is the “bestest.” Yesterday, Today, and Forever.

 


[1] (πάντες οἱ λαοὶ /מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים )

“God is dead, “ Nietzsche’s madman declared, “God is dead and we have killed Him!” Through his parable of the madman, Nietzsche was delivering a powerful social commentary. Speaking to a society that no longer believed in the existence of God yet still lived according to the memory of Christian morality, Nietzsche warned that things would certainly change.

You have done away with the concept of God, Nietzsche was saying, now do the necessary work to develop a system of morality that is not based on deity. Those who still held to the Christian form of morality were clinging to a morality of weakness, of servitude. We don’t want any of this love your enemy, turn the other cheek, the last shall be first nonsense. What Nietzsche proposed instead was a morality of power, of self-assertion. Be strong. Dominate. Pursue “the will to power.” If it tends toward weakness, throw it out. If it increases your sense of power, go for it.

Follow this course, Nietzsche said, and we will arrive at something called the Superman. Philosophers are typically careful to explain that Nietzsche’s German word would be better translated “Overman” than “Superman.” Superman, they tell us, conjures up images of capes and underwear worn on the outside of the pants. It carries a sense of superpowers and inhumanity. Well, so what if it does? I’m not a philosopher, so I don’t need to be as careful with my categories. It seems like this is exactly the sort of thing Nietzsche was proposing (cape and exo-underwear aside).

Nietzsche’s Superman was the next phase for mankind. Man has a certain dignity because he has risen above the animals. But man is not the last word. He is more of a transition. If we can make it, if we can assert ourselves and continue to develop, then we will arrive at the Superman. Our caped-crusader Superman is a superhero precisely because he is an improved form of humanity.  Nietzsche’s Superman may as well be a superhero, because he embodies the improvement that needs to be made in order for mankind to reach his destiny.

This Superman is the one who does what he wants—not in such a way that he is helplessly driven by his lusts, for that too would be a sign of weakness, but in such a way that he does exactly what he means to do. The Superman would be free, unconstrained by obligation, servitude, and especially deity. His life would be a declaration of independence, an autonomous hero to surpass what mankind has been able to achieve.

Personally, I can’t imagine a worse future for humanity. Is that what we really need, a post-human being who is more assertive and dominant? Who stands on her own autonomy and does exactly what she means to do at every moment? That’s a terrifying thought.

Nietzsche’s line of thinking fits well within a Darwinian view of life. But if there is any truth to the biblical statement that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), then Nietzsche’s Superman would be the equivalent of a Super Villain. From the time of the ancient Greeks (and even before), people have assumed that what they needed was a more powerful version of themselves. And thus the Greek gods were basically amplified humanity: superhero versions of themselves, with all of the desires and vices of their human counterparts. Yet this didn’t work out very well in Greek mythology, and we have ample evidence from the history of the world that man cannot be his own savior.

We need a better superhero to rescue us. Someone who has the power to do not just whatever he wishes to do, but the power to transform. Power over the natural world, for example. Or how about power over death? Power to take the dead and raise them back to life. Power to take this clearly broken and hurting world and turn it into something truly and eternally wonderful.

I could get behind a superhero like that.

 

My two year old daughter is infatuated with Buzz Lightyear. As we walked out of the Disney store with our new Buzz Lightyear action figure, I noticed that all the other little girls were looking at princesses. I guess my daughter is special.
She loves Buzz Lightyear. Anytime we ask her what she wants to do she responds, “Watch Buzz Lightyear?” Every day she flies him around the house and every night she puts him to bed on the guest bathroom toilet (that’s his spot—“Buzz Lightyear go nigh nigh on the potty.”) It’s not unusual to hear her sweet little voice declaring, “Buzz Lightyear to the rescue!” and “To infinity, and beyond!”

Everything about it was cute until she started comparing Buzz Lightyear to daddy: “Buzz Lightyear have wings. Daddy have wings?” With inadequacy in my voice I sadly reply, “No sweetheart. Daddy no have wings.” He’s got me there.

Old School Batman

So what has this got to do with anything other than my now-fragile self-esteem? Well, it got me thinking about superheroes. Why is it that movies about Batman, X-Men, Spiderman, Superman, Wonderwoman, Ironman, Hancock, the Hulk, Catwoman, or a host of other superheroes will always attract an audience? Why is it that Marvel has made so much money?

Mankind’s obsession with superheroes is nothing new. The Greeks had gods who controlled the fates of men, but they also had demigods like Hercules who were part man, part god. The demigods could fight for the cause of humanity with superhuman ability. The Germanic tribes had Thor and his powerful hammer, and the Old English had Beowulf, who used his superhuman power to save the human race from Grendel and Grendel’s mother. There are many such examples in classical and medieval mythology.

I find it fascinating that man feels an attachment to the concept of a hero that belongs to the human race yet is also somehow more than human—a hero that will do on behalf of mankind that which man is too weak to do for himself. With Hercules, Thor, and Superman this involves protecting mankind from its enemies. With Batman it involves bringing justice into the midst of corruption.

In case I’m being too subtle, I’m suggesting that mankind conceives of these superheroes because we all know deep down that a Man who was indeed human but who somehow was also more than human has accomplished on behalf of mankind that which man could not do for himself. Hebrews 2 describes Jesus in exactly this role. The Bible is clear that Jesus does indeed protect the rest of us from our greatest Enemy. And when He returns, He will bring justice to this dark and corrupt world.

Disney/Pixar's Buzz Lighyear in "Spanish Mode" (from Toy Story 3)

Everything we project onto our superheroes is nothing more than a hint of what is realized in Christ. Of course, Jesus is more than a superhero. And it would probably be wrong to say that Batman is the shadow and Jesus is the substance. But still, a human fascination as enduring as the concept of the superhero probably comes from a common source. We have a sense of what we need: someone greater than us who can help us do what we know we ought to do. The secular world creates this hero in its image, but the biblical Hero actually creates (and recreates) us in His—we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26), and ultimately we will be remade into Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29).

So what does this all mean? Well, to tie it back into my daughter’s world, the True Buzz Lightyear has indeed come to the rescue, and one day He will return to bring us to infinity and beyond. (And with that, I win the Dundee for cheesiest closing line ever!)