Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Messiah of Steel: Could Kal-El point us to Jesus?

Recently Christianity Today's "Her-meneutics" blog (here) informed us all that Superman is not Jesus.  To this I believe the world uttered a resounding, "Duh!" 

I don't believe I have ever met a person who believes the Superman is the equal of Jesus Christ.  I don't think I have ever met a person who believes the King David is the equal of Jesus.  Their inequality does not stop us from exploring some very interesting, and sometimes helpful, parallels between the fiction of Superman and the history of the New Testament.

"Man of Steel" director Zach Snyder has been very open about the fact that he and screenwriter David Goyer were intentional about the Christ imagery in the film.  This is nothing new to film or literature.  Modern stories often employ Biblical imagery and language to add structure and purpose to their own plots.

Most of the parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ are fairly obvious.  Superman is sent by his father from the heavens to earth in order to be a super powered beacon of hope.  He is born in a unique way, the first natural birth in thousands of years.  He is raised by adoptive parents who are used to working with their hands.  Superman grows into a man and at the age of 33 presents himself as the savior, or at least a savior, of humanity. 

"Man of Steel", however, takes some of these parallels farther than other stories have.  There is a focus during the film's flashback sequences on the suffering that Kal-El will go through if the world discovers who he really is and what he can do.  This culminates in a scene where Kal-El seeks advice from a church.  While listening to the pastor, there is a stained glass window depicting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

"Man of Steel" takes one particular angle of the Christ story and runs with it.  This is the messiah-king motif.  King David falls under this same umbrella.  And I think this has contributed to some of the confusion about how Superman can possibly be an archetype of Jesus Christ. 

In the age after the writing of the New Testament the term "messiah" has been so closely linked with Jesus that we can miss the fact that a messiah is a violent type of person.  David, the archetypal messiah, performs his first official duty by smashing Goliath's face and cutting off his head. 

Superman is this type of messiah.  He is not going to die for the sins of the people.  He is not going to offer them life everlasting.  He is going to save them from physical evil here on earth.  He is going to crush the enemies of mankind.  He is going to (SPOILER ALERT) snap General Zod's neck in order to save the lives of innocent bystanders. 

And how is this supposed to point us back to Christ?  It reminds us that the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus were not nice fluffy events.  And they were not salvific for everyone, at least not for the enemies of Jesus in the spiritual realms.  It reminds us that the very first proclamation of the Gospel was a promise given to Adam and Eve: that the Messiah would crush the head of the serpent once and for all.

Maybe some of our discomfort with thinking about Superman as a type of Christ comes from our "wimpifying" of the Savior.  We forget that Jesus is every bit the warrior that David was, every bit the superhero that Kal-El was, but much more.  His enemies were from the heavenly places and He crushed them, not with a great display of strength, but with the ultimate display of weakness.      

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Modest Lutherans: What does this mean?

Modesty has been a topic going around lately on the internet so I wanted to weigh in from a Lutheran perspective. 

For Lutherans (and for Jesus and Paul) the Law of God is summarized very easily: Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself.  There can be no discussion about how Christians should act towards one another without taking into consideration love for our neighbors.

We should, at this point, make a distinction between the biblical use of the word "modesty" and the way it is commonly used in Christian circles today.  Scripture uses "modesty" to mean "not showing off".  It is not about how much skin a person is showing, but about whether or not they should display their wealth and status with their clothing in the congregation.

What "modesty" has come to mean in common useage today is that we should cover our skin, not showing it off to the world.  So, for a Lutheran, the real question is, "How do my clothes serve my neighbor, specifically my neighbor of the opposite sex?"

How should a man dress in order to love and serve his female neighbors?  That probably depends upon the context.  When going on a date it would be unloving for a young man to show up wearing a ratty t-shirt and cut-offs when he is pretty sure his date bought a new dress for the occasion.  He should show he loveand respect by making an effort to dress nice for her.

Let's say that this young man shows up in a sharp new suit.  He looks handsome, in fact so handsome that the young woman is smitten with attraction to him.  His shoulders are broadened.  The color of the tie makes his eyes shine.  Might this clothing lead her to lust after him?  Might she be led to have impure thoughts about this physically attractive young man?

That is entirely possible.  And it probably cannot be avoided.  Sin is unavoidable in this life.  We are sinners through and through until Christ returns.

Let's flip the coin and say that the young woman is wearing a dress that makes her look radiant.  The young man cannot help but to think of how beautiful she is.  Might he not begin to lust after her, finding her sexually attractive? 

Sure.  And again, that can't be avoided, at least not all the time.  Sin is a constant stain on all that we do in this life. 

So what are men and women who simply want to love their neighbors as themselves supposed to do about the clothing that they wear?

Hard and fast rules are not the way of the New Testament.  Neither are silver bullets.  Love requires, not a strict set of rules, but a heart that looks at induviduals with needs and tires to meet them. 

So rather than say that it is always wrong for women to wear bikinis at the beach, or that men should wear shirts in the water, or that all people should walk abound in full snow gear 24/7, I simply offer a few observations and comments:
  • When Jesus gave the command equating lust and adultery He did so in a context where women never showed their skin.  There were no short skirts of sports bras.  So lust will not be cured in men even if women never left the house.  It is a struggle that men will have until He returns.
  • Men are not diseased idiots who can never learn to control their sexual thoughts.  This is the way men are usually portrayed in these modesty conversations and it simply is not true.  Do men have lustful thoughts?  Yes.  But can they grow and learn to control their minds even in the midst of abundant temptation?  Yes.
  • What is culturally appropriate must be taken into consideration.  What we wear tells others something about ourselves.  This is a simple fact of life.  So wearing a bathing suit on the beach is appropriate, but not in the board room.  
  • A person's conscience must also guide them.  There is no dress code in the Bible.  Therefore each person must look to their own heart and test their own motivations.  Are you dressing to be sexually provocative?  If the answer is yes then maybe you need to reconsider your attire, male or female.  You may not be able to avoid putting others into temptation at times, but you should not do so on purpose.
  • Lean to confess and receive forgiveness.  You will fail.  You will sin.  Tell God.  Tell your pastor.  Receive the forgiveness that Jesus offers in His blood.  And don't lose sight of that.