Blog | J.D. Bale
This week marked yet another year that I didn’t get to attend the San Diego Comic Con, but I did end up spending a lot of time driving various people through the hordes of costumed tourists that had invaded Downtown. Waiting for a traffic light to turn green at the intersection of 4th and Broadway I had an unexpected realization—it’s just not all that STRANGE anymore.
In 1978 the first Superman movie was aggressively advertised with the slogan, “You’ll believe a man can fly!” When I first saw the movie as a kid in the late 80s, I remember thinking, “Not really…” Twenty years of pop-culture evolution have gone a long way toward affecting the suspension of my disbelief. It is now a lot easier for me to accept that a man could fly, transform into a giant green monster, or ride a space-dragon into a black hole. These things just aren’t as extraordinary as they used to be.
So if that middle-aged guy with his beer gut squeezed into spandex darted into the air– moving effortlessly from pavement to skyline in a few instants– I’m not sure I would be all that surprised or even impressed.
It dawned on me that if, instead, I saw Jesus Christ Himself hovering past my car, I would probably lose my freaking mind. It would be completely unbelievable and it was very strange to consider the reasons why.
Mark Driscoll wrote a pretty great blog right after The Avengers came out, and he is just better at getting to the point that I am. So I’ll save us all a bunch of time by letting him do a bit of the work for me:
“No matter how many times this same tired story is told with some new crisis or savior to met it, people still line up to escape reality for a while… I guess it’s our way of not losing hope and dreaming of a world where a half-man, half-something else superhero was coming to defeat evil, liberate the oppressed, and usher in a new kingdom of peace and life.
Too bad we then have to leave the theater and enter reality again. If only there were a real superhero.”
Driscoll is alluding to Jesus, but Escapism is at the heart of the point he was trying to make. Superheroes, aliens, monsters, and zombies are all imaginative representations of the very real human desire to retreat from reality and into fantasy. Some people escape into comic books while others escape into video games, romance novels, or even “Reality TV.” The truth of the matter is that everybody instinctively knows that this world is broken and nobody seems to be doing a satisfying job of fixing it. We find comfort in our ability to set aside our existential shortcomings and indulge our own fantasies.
Even religion can be abused to this end. How many people imagine Heaven not as the place where God dwells in all His Glory, but as an individualized space where we finally get to indulge all our worldly desires? For many people Comic Con is the equivalent of four days of Heaven on Earth. It is a very real incarnation of our culture’s flourishing passion for Escapism.
And that is probably why Jesus would seem so out of place.
The Gospel is not another story about the human desire to escape into fantasy. The Gospel is about the Divine mission to invade our present reality.
Every once in a while somebody takes a shot at turning Jesus into a superhero. My favorite example has him hunting down mass murders with Ernest Hemingway and Gary Busey on a time traveling air ship designed by Einstein. Stories like this fixate on His Messianic superpowers, but they ignore His character and His purpose. That’s what happens when you try and separate Jesus from the context of the Bible (and probably why he doesn’t belong in comic books at all…) Jesus is not just another dude in an understated costume. Jesus is The Word of God made Flesh.
What does that even mean, anyway? It means that Jesus is not just a character conceived in order to give powerful credence to various spiritual and philosophical (and even socio-political) ideas. Jesus is the manifestation of God’s Sovereign Purpose for the entirety of Creation—announced, explained, and fulfilled in the form of a flesh and blood human being. The Gospel is the testimony concerning not only the fact that a “half-man, half-something else” actually existed and had various really cool powers, but also the definitive revelation concerning how He used those powers and why.
The Gospel preached and fulfilled in the powerful life of Jesus Christ is the invasion of Eternity into History. And the Word of God provides the meaningful context the makes it inescapably satisfying to all who are empowered to hear it.
The tension that is at the heart of the continuing STRANGENESS of the Gospel is that while we entertain countless imaginings of how we can escape a world that doesn’t make a lot of sense, Jesus makes so much sense it’s terrifying— that while I find myself daily wrestling with the desire for Escapism, the infinite powers of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been assembled to rescue me from my wanderings.
Sometimes it just takes being stuck in traffic surrounded by tourists to help me realize how much I need something better than some guy in a costume to invade the city where I live.