Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I stood in line for a very long time to see the first Superman movie. If memory serves me correctly, we were living in New Orleans at the time.

Yep, I checked just now, vintage 1978.

I love the hero, the zany plots and all of the other characters whether found in comics books, television shows or the movies.
I expect that much of my "addiction" has to do with the many fond memories of early television in my childhood.

So, naturally, I have seen the latest, "Superman Returns."

This most recent film is by far the best, in my opinion.

Special effects, casting, story line. I loved all of it.

But, the script really got me from a sociological and theological standpoint. This film is full of theology.

Talk about a vision of the "messiah."

Upon his return to earth after a 5-year hiatus, he discovers that his special friend, Lois Lane, has won a Pulitzer Prize for her much-acclaimed editorial essay, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman."

It is clear she wrote the opinion piece to come to terms with the fact that her hero was gone forever, or so she thought at the time. His return is startling to her, to say the least!

Superman finds that she has a new love and a young son. So things are different.

In his own attempt to deal with his loss and his emotions, he enters into a "conversation" with his long deceased father, Jor-El (note the Hebrew ending to the family names).

"Even though you were raised as a human being, you are not one of them. They can be great people, Kal-El. If they wish to be. They lack the light to show them the way. For this reason above all--their capacity for good--I have sent them you. . .my only son," Jor-El explains.

In a face-to-face encounter mid-way through the movie, Lois and Superman talk through their issues.

"Let's start with the big question. Where did you go?" Lois asks.

"To Krypton. When astronomers thought they'd found it. . .I had to see for myself," the super hero replies.

Later, Lois presses him, "How could you leave me like that?

"I'm sorry if I hurt you. . .," he responds.

"I moved on. I had to. We all did. That's why I wrote it. The world doesn't need a savior and neither do I," she continued.

At that, the caped wonder takes Lois on one of their trademark sky rides through the night.

Attaining a fairly lofty height, he stops and asks her to listen. She tells him that everything is quiet and that she can hear nothing.

"Do you know what I hear? Everything. You say the world doesn't need a savior. . .but every day I hear people crying for one," he shares with her.

He then assures her that he will always be around and bids her good night.

The theology here is worth a closer look. The basics of it are fairly easy to identify.

People have about them a basic goodness. For sure, there is the Lex Luther side to us all, and that causes lots of problems because it figures prominently in every life to one degree or another.

But the fundamental view here is that human beings have amazing capacity for goodness and for community.

What is needed is light. . .a model, an alternative to confusion and strife.

Further, the world is in pain and, because this is true, it needs a savior--someone with solutions, actions that actually make things better, less painful and more just.

The trouble is, it needs that savior now--today. And it needs that savior here because of the suffering.

The point is the earth--its pain, its grief, its suffering and its need. There is no plan to escape the here and the now of the earth. The plan is to reclaim the planet for that which is good--for its true created purpose.

Any thought about what is beyond this world is left to another dimension and another discussion. But such considerations cannot be allowed to dominate a worldview, otherwise the concerns of this world will not be given their due consideration.

So, Superman goes to work doing his appointed work: relieving pain, diminishing suffering and shedding light.

Most Christians will likely find such a view unsettling and unacceptable, I expect.

Actually, this view of redemption ought to be studied carefully by every congregation representing the Christian church in this nation. This is such an important challenge to face and with which to wrestle.

Most churches in 2006 want to focus on the messianic work of Jesus, as they understand him.

Such a view is heavy on eschatology, end times, heaven and life after this miserable existence.

Thus, almost every thought of the savior has to do with spiritual atonement and eternal salvation. The mission is to enjoy a personal walk with an unseen God and find peace against the world via thoughts of heaven's reward. The journey back to Krypton!

It seems plausible to posit that the stronger a church or denomination's view of heaven, the less likely it is to be really engaged on the earth, except to rescue people from the world for the sake of eternity.

Such a view, now so prevalent, encourages people to withdraw from the world and its challenging pain and injustice. For some groups, it even means that political action in history is really all about speeding the arrival of the end.

The church could learn a lot from Superman. You remember, don't you. The champion for "truth and justice"?

In many ways, his life and mission seem closer to that of the reality of Jesus than most churches are able or willing to recognize.


Mike Exum said...


I had not really planned to see Superman, but maybe I will now. Thanks for the tip.

As for churches wrapped up in eschatology, I am with you -I think. I was a dualist/neo-gnostic type (I know that labels are often illusive and those are here too) before I went to ACU a few years ago. I, like so many I know even now, held a view that "salvation" is all that matters, and by that I would have ment "going to heaven when I die" specifically. In that view, I thought the point of life was to reject my physicality, the "here & now" etc. I thought the world is going up in a big judgment blaze one day so why care about it now? Just get myself out and maybe a few friends along the way.

I think that view is still prevelant, but more and more challenged all the time -as I see it. I work in a bookstore. More and more books are coming out that challenge that view. The blog-o-sphere seems full of people challenging that view. I suspect it is in a state of change overall -even if only getting started.

Still, I like to see it challenged. Thanks for discussing it here. A change in this view stands to benefit ministry like yours and mine greatly. The whole world really.

Many blessings...

Larry James said...

Man, Mike! Thanks for your encouraging words! They really hit the spot today! Peace to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Larry, what is your defination of injustice in America?

krister said...

I second Mike's assessment. I am heartened by many of the younger generation thinkers (especially those from emerging churches) who are willing to challenge such views about heaven (and hell). How did we get from the person of Christ to an obsession with the "rapture"? Although I was not interested in seeing Superman Returns I may try to check it out soon on your recommendation. From my vantage point, many of our prayers about wanting Jesus to come back soon include a desire to avoid being part of the solution in approximating God's reign on earth. We would much rather God clean up our mess than get messy cleaning up generations-long problems.

It seems that the recent interest in being 'missional' seeks to stem such thinking (using eschatology for the sake of removing earthly responsibility rather than as the model for what life should be like now, i.e., the eschatological banquet being mirrored in our display of hospitality toward our neighbors), but I wonder whether an ideological/theological shift will actually trickle down to our actions any more than the most recent theological fad (be it Purpose Driven, Jabez, Your Best Life Now, etc.).

Why can't we just follow the person of Christ and seek to emulate his proclamation of the reign of God by word and deed? It would save our churches time invested in meetings and money invested in trying to teach members the same thing that one finds in the Gospels (only with more packaging). I appreciate your writing, Larry. Hope all is well. shalom

Larry James said...

Anonymous, not sure about a definition per se. My concerns are with individuals and families who work very hard and still struggle to make life work. Needs and big questions surrounding health care, decent housing, education for everyone, food security, etc. Those are the kind of human life issues that seem to stir the value shapers of scripture. Those are the issues that concern me.

Chris Field said...


Check out the post on my blog titled "RANDOM FYI" and let me know what you think. Also, any books you would suggest I could get the counselors this summer at Camp of the Hills?

Mr. W said...

You know... I think this is why Superman has always been my favourite Superhero. Out of all of them, Superman has this real concern for the world and the people's hurts and needs.

Ultimately, the reason I'm attracted so much to Jesus is his ability to fully experience being Human and being Divine. This is what I like about Superman too. His ability to be human and relate to humans, and yet be their saviour.

Again, this is why I like Superman because he reminds me so much of Jesus.

I always like your posts Larry. Feel free to check out mine anytime you want. Lately I've been wrestling with the idea of what it means to be human as a Christian. Peace man.

Eric Livingston said...

More than just the Hebrew endings, the whole names could be rooted in Hebrew. Jor-El could easily be translated "The Light of God" while Kal-El could easily refer to "The Voice of God". I've no idea if that was what intended by the writers, but just looking at the names from a Hebrew perspective, those translations would fit nicely.

Larry James said...

Eric, thanks for the refresher course in Hebrew! It's been awhile since I've cracked my Hebrew Bible!

Daniel Gray said...

Siegel and Shuster (the creators of Superman) were both children of Jewish immigrants...

Larry James said...

Daniel, thanks for this insight.

Jeremy Gregg said...

The character of Superman is based in large part on the Jewish legend of the Golem, I believe.