Superman Returns -- and So Should the Church
- Friday, June 30, 2006
The Embittered Abandoned
The only reason given by Superman for leaving his job so abruptly, without preparing anyone for his departure from the field, was that giving notice would have been personally uncomfortable. Deserting hurting people is a sure way to embitter them. In response to Superman abdicating his responsibilities, Lois Lane (reporter for Metropolis' Daily Planet) writes a Pulitzer Prize-winning column about how the world doesn't need Superman. Upon his return, she says to his face, "The world doesn’t need a savior, and neither do I." The lesson? Abandon the battle long enough and people might conclude they are better off without you.
It is not true, of course. In a world wracked by overwhelming evil only the foolish would deny the need of a savior. But when the world sees those commissioned to reach out to them looking inward instead, they cannot help questioning the sincerity of those who claim to save. Terry Mattingly reports on a story in John and Sylvia Ronnsvalle's book, Behind the Stained Glass Windows: Money Dynamics in the Church, which reveals much about the attitude that has soured some on the Church and salvation. People's discomfort with change, the authors note, often trumps the mission of the Church. A couple of men, in one case study, accosted their evangelistic pastor, one saying, "We want you to stop talking about inviting other people into this church. There are too many new people now. We don't know half the people who come here and there are new people in leadership positions."
Some of the most comfortable places in the world are museums. Everything is climate-controlled to ensure that the artifacts inside don't change. Personal comfort is a great model if you are trying to preserve the past, but a lousy one if you want to advance the Kingdom. Jesus taught His disciples to leave their own comfort behind and to seek out those that others had rejected.
In addition to embittering Lois, Superman's departure emboldened evil. While Superman was on Earth doing his job, his nemesis, Lex Luthor, was safely behind bars. But when Superman leaves to satisfy his curiosity about his dead world, Luthor schemes in the land of the living to escape his bonds. Luthor is not merely a criminal; he has pretensions toward godhood. But his parole is granted because Superman is not available at the hearing to speak against Luthor's release. Taking advantage of Superman's absence, Luthor has plenty of time to ferret out the Man of Steel's secrets and become a potent adversary.
Edmund Burke once argued that "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." When the Church becomes obsessed with her own desires, plans, and programs and forgets her commission to combat evil by evangelizing sinners and doing the good works that God has set before her, then evil triumphs. If the Church will not share the Gospel, demonic alternatives will rise to give the lost false hope. If the Church abandons the arts, the arts come to reflect an evil purpose. If the Church abandons medicine, we get abortion on demand and euthanasia. When the Church abandons the poor, we get eugenics programs and one-child-only national policies. When the Church is disengaged, the world does not stand still. And when we return, we cannot expect evil to give way without a fight.
Brandon Routh as Superman (image compliments of Warner Bros.)
Strategy for Re-Engagement
Superman Returns is as good at suggesting recovery as it is about diagnosing the problem. Once Superman gets a grip on what he has done, he apologizes and re-engages. Good re-enters the fray against titanic evil. The idea that good overcomes evil is not merely a sop to wishful thinkers. It is a truth deeply ingrained in humanity. Superman Returns relies on the universality of that feeling to work. The film also recognizes the need for sacrifice to attain the good end. This movie is not about cheap forgiveness and easy victories.
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