Why We Love the Heroes
Adam Denny ~ 4/21/2019
If you pay attention to movies and entertainment at any rate you would have noticed the rising popularity of superhero movies in recent years – much of which are merely retellings of near-century old fictional tales on the big screen. Movie after movie has been released with the story of a hero who overcomes enormous odds to defeat a villain who is threatening the good of a people or the entire universe. It seems that we cannot get enough of what is fundamentally the same story being told and retold with different characters but all based on a strikingly similar plot. Foundational in each unfolding story is the concept of some form of evil that threatens the existence of people and seeks to steal, kill, and destroy all that is noble and right. Whether it’s Batman against the Joker or The Avengers against warlords from galaxies far away, the stories are consistently a battle of good versus evil, right versus wrong, peace versus war, and hope versus despair.
These tales highlight different superheroes and chronicle their journeys as those willing to lay their life on the line for the sake of others. We love to see the character development and find ways in which we relate to their struggle, feel their pain, and cheer them on as they rise to the occasion and fulfill their destiny. In each case, the hero typically displays sacrifice, nobility, moral goodness, and praiseworthy virtues us mere mortals appreciate and imitate.
So, given that this seems to be the theme for movie after movie, why have viewers not grown tired of it? How is it that we can watch these films on the edge of our seats captivated by the story and yet also predict how things will end? Why do these stories resonate so deeply within our psyche’s regardless of race, religion, background, or worldview? What is it about a hero overcoming evil, obstacles, and sacrificing themselves to save the day that we cannot get enough of?
The answer is simple, yet deeply theological. I will premise my answer on two distinct concepts found in both the popular fictional superhero movies of the day and the unfolding plan of God as found in the Bible which finds its fulfillment in the heroics of Jesus:
THERE IS A COSMIC PROBLEM OF EPIC PROPORTION
Superhero movies typically unmask an antagonist who is seeking to bring destruction to the natural order and peaceful bliss of existence within the framework of ‘how things are.’ Viewers are appalled by villains and their sinister schemes that attempt to ruin lives and disrupt harmony. The stories make it easy to dislike these characters as we often see them at their worst. Cruelty, vileness, anger, rage, bitterness, deception, and hatred depict a type of depravity we are not accustomed to viewing with such clarity, yet know of its existence and immanence all around us.
This reminds us of the startling reality that life as we know it hangs in the balance. The threats of worldwide destruction and societal breakdown reminds us of how vulnerable we truly are. It frightens us to remember that life is short, tomorrow is not promised, and inherent evil does exist. Our hearts resonate so deeply with this because it is true of the world we live in. Disease, disasters, war, and tyrannical threats of international leaders, murder, injustice, etc. often bring the very same reaction to us and bring to bare on our minds the reality that we are not in control and that the more we look around, the more we see that something isn’t quite right.
The Bible is clear about the reason behind the despair that haunts humanities past, present, and future. Genesis 3 tells the account of the ultimate villain (Satan) and the great fall of mankind into sin and the consequential curse on both mankind and all of creation. Romans 8 reminds us that creation is anxiously longing for its redemption and freedom from the bondage and corruption caused by sin. There is something innately in each of us that knows that there is evil both in and around us and we need liberated from its power. We are sinners by both nature and choice (Romans 1-3), and all that is in and around us points us to the cosmic problem of this great evil. But, how can we? Is there hope for the world as we know it? Is there a deliverance from an inevitable physical death that all of us will experience?
WE NEED RESCUED BY ONE MORE POWERFUL THAN OURSELVES
At the climax of each superhero movie is the ultimate showdown of the hero and the villain. The ordinary civilians are powerless against the sinister plots of the bad guy that seems to be so thoroughly effective that it cannot be stopped by anyone. The people cower in fear and slowly lose hope and drift into despair – until the hero comes in to save the day. Just as it seems that villain has absolute power and control, the hero swoops in to rescue the hopeless and exerts his/her mighty power. This savior figure displays that he/she is not only willing to rescue, but capable. They possess some power, technology, or superhuman ability to rescue those destined to perish.
In this we see a clear portrayal of Jesus. Jesus, who can sympathize with our humanity and weakness, overcame the great evil of sin, death, and the grave through His willful sacrifice on our behalf (Romans 5, 2 Corinthians 5, John 3). Jesus, the ultimate hero and Son of God, was not only willing to lay down His life for the hopeless but did so as one who was different and was in no need of saving. Because of His sinless perfection, Jesus was free from the grips of evil and the despair of sin. He had no need of salvation or rescue and no binding curse of physical and spiritual death but bore those willingly to put the love of His Father on display for a broken world and people (Isaiah 53, Romans 5:8).
We see that the gospel of God is so intrinsically woven into our hearts as the ultimate story of rescue that we cannot help but to gravitate to similar stories of deliverance and salvation. We relate to the need for restoration both of our hearts and in the world we reside in. We’re constantly reminded of our own inability to bring about this needed rescuing and salvation despite our persistent futile attempts to better ourselves, strive for comfort, and elevate momentary desires.
So, rejoice as The Avengers usher in a new era of peace and squash the galaxy chasing tyrant, celebrate when Batman turns in the Joker for the one thousandth time, and cheer for your fictional heroes of choice – all the while realizing that there is One who has promised His return and rescue in a very factual way as the eternal drama of God unfolds. And, in a similar vein as our endless fictional hero movies, we know the outcome (Revelation 22). We know that good will triumph. Though sin and death may have its time and seem to choke out the hope of rescue, we are confident of the way things will end. But, our Hero will not be reliant on a device, a team, or a strategy that might work – He will simply speak with Sovereign authority and omnipotence and in an instant every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Hero we do not deserve, but desperately need and adore (Philippians 2:9-11).