My house doubles as a functional living space and a superhero lair. Come over and you’ll find Batman, Spider-Man and any one of the Avengers battling foes on the stairs, under the kitchen table or wherever my sons last deserted them.
Superhero fascination isn’t restricted to elementary school boys. A genre that was once the domain of comic book geeks has risen to massive popularity in the entertainment and retail industries. Last year alone, the six live-action superhero films released raked in more than $4 billion in worldwide box office. From the movies we watch to the clothes we wear, the realm of superheroes has expanded to become a marketing cash cow and a culture unto itself.
Our captivation with powerful, otherworldly characters reveals a deeper spiritual truth about our basic human desire to be rescued. As objects of our admiration and fandom, superheroes promise us deliverance from trouble and supply inspiration for a better future. The line between fantasy and reality blurs into irrelevance as we latch onto these symbols of hope amidst adversity.
Sometimes we elevate those around us to heroic standing. I have, at various times, treated my husband as though his primary objective in marriage was to spare me from difficult circumstances. I’ve thought of him as my personal champion who deflects all my problems, rather than a Christ-like shepherd who helps guide me through life’s valleys and peaks.
Appreciating and honoring others for their God-given talents and good deeds can be a way we love one another with brotherly affection (Romans 12:10). However, when we regard anyone other than Christ as our savior, we exchange truth for a lie and turn an image of our real Messiah into an idol. This sets us up for a nosedive from optimism to despair, as one professor from the University of California at San Diego wrote at Psychology Today: “When people have role models to look up to, they feel comforted, at least for awhile. But all-encompassing worship of any one person inevitably leads to disappointment.”
The superheroes we revere on screen and in real life can’t guarantee the hope we desire. Only Jesus secures our future inheritance and delivers our living hope — yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Our captivation with powerful, otherworldly characters reveals a deeper spiritual truth about our basic human desire to be rescued.
Longing for Rescue
As desperate people longing for a hero to give us purpose and confidence, we’re in good company with God’s chosen people. Israel has yearned for deliverance since its infancy as a nation. The people cried for rescue from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 2:23), from oppression at the hands of their enemies (Judges 2:18) and from captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 30:15).
Time and again, the Lord remembered his covenant with Abraham and saved his people, often by the hand of someone he raised to a position of authority and influence. Moses, the judges and the high priests all functioned as God’s instruments of deliverance, either by physical liberation from affliction and bondage or symbolic atonement freeing them from the guilt of sin.
Israel’s desire for rescue wasn’t inherently wrong. Scripture tells us God is our stronghold (Psalm 37:39) and invites us to call on him in our troubles (Psalm 17:6). Sin crept into the people’s desire for a hero through wrong expectations and impure motives. They expected Moses to lead them to better accommodations instead of the wilderness. Then, they complained to him that they were dying of hunger (Exodus 16:3). They wanted judges to save them from their enemies, but they failed to truly repent of their sins once God delivered them.
After multiple vicious cycles of rebellion, oppression and release, Israel turned to another hero besides God. Dissatisfied with Samuel’s sons’ corrupt leadership, the elders of Israel demanded a king to rule them (1 Samuel 8:5). Instead of seeking a leader to govern the land as a steward of the sovereign king of creation, the people wanted a ruler to solve all their problems. “But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, ‘No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and got out before us and fight our battles’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).
Israel idealized an earthly king as a hero who would bring them power, protection and material wealth. They rejected God’s kingship in favor of an idyllic figurehead who’d give them what they wanted, which they assumed would come without requiring obedience or submission.
Just as Israel wanted a king to fulfill their self-serving expectations, we make the same mistake when we treat a person we admire as a personal savior solely commissioned to meet our perceived needs. We quickly forget these heroes are humans; they sin just as we do and will inevitably disappoint us because of their physical and moral inadequacy. Israel’s history of wicked royalty and national destruction shows us the outcome of this misplaced worship, as Isaiah warned:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the holy one of Israel or consult the Lord. (Isaiah 31:1)
Human heroes can’t replace our heavenly king. It’s far better for us take refuge in him than to trust in another human who can’t offer salvation (Psalm 118:8).
Human heroes can’t replace our heavenly king.
Seek His Kingdom
In these days of social outrage and turmoil, it’s understandable that we’d grasp for the hope represented by a certain political party or candidate, blogger or social media influencer, famous pastor or teacher, and anyone else who radiates warmth and reassurance that everything will turn out okay. While leaders in positions of influence must steward their gifts well unto the Lord, those of us who regard these people as heroes also bear a responsibility to treat them rightly and give praise where praise is due: to the true King of Kings.
Christ alone is our deliverer. He paid the penalty for our sins (Galatians 3:14) and saved us from death’s sting (1 Corinthians 15:55). He granted us new life by his Spirit (Romans 8:2) and guarantees our final resurrection to glory (1 John 3:2). He’s the better Moses, judge, priest and prince anointed by God to redeem us. By the wounds of our hero, we are healed.
As his followers, the subjects of his rule, we must seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Rather than store up heroes on earth, we can look to heaven for our hope, wisdom and eternal well-being. Instead of seeking other people to fulfill our longing for rescue, we can remember Christ already saved us by his grace and sent his Spirit to give us what we need to live like him.
When we see someone working to promote God’s kingdom, we can encourage and spur them on to good deeds without setting them up on a throne. As we admire someone’s gifts and talents, we can acknowledge the goodness we see and praise the giver of every good and perfect thing. In our relationships with family, spouses, church leaders and neighbors, we can commend them by pointing out how they’re displaying Christ instead of heaping burdens of expectations for them to gratify our desires.
We know hope that doesn’t disappoint. As we reflect his light in the world, we can tell others the good news of our risen hero.