My family is probably going to groan about this post. We've had a long tradition of enjoying superhero stories and movies. We like fantasy and science fiction and time traveling and other such stories. We cut our teeth on Lord of the Rings (the books, not the movies) and even stuck with the Smallville series (in spite of the wearisome number of "skip" scenes and episodes) for seven seasons until we finally gave up. We look forward to a great good-versus-evil flick.
That's actually why I was a little shaken by a documentary called The Replacement Gods.
Brief alert: the beginning of this documentary deals with the ancient legends of early cultures and as my sister says, "I just learned way more than I wanted to about other gods".
However, what the documentary points out is we already know these legends but just don't realize they've been redressed for our age.
There are a few things in the documentary I don't agree with and I'm pretty sure I don't see theologically eye-to-eye on every point with the filmmakers. But the documentary makes the point that Satan is called the Great Deceiver and he has a couple of goals, one of which is to destroy God's Creation and the other is to set himself up as God. In the process of reaching those goals, he has been very successful at using every generation's version of mass media to propagandize his point of view; and you can trace it down through all recorded history to our day.
Matthew records Jesus having a strange and pointed conversation with his disciples about his second coming and about the things that will happen to help those who love God to recognize it. One of the first things he tells them is this:
"For false christs [saviors] and false prophets [people who speak the words of God] will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand." (Matt 24:24-25)
God's Elect - those serious about following God and loving him - can be made to confuse bad for good. To buy into a false good and make real good appear wrong or strange or evil so that we turn away or even fight against it.
I'm not saying every good-versus-evil story is twisted so it's not really good or evil. But I am saying that we have to be really careful to know what good and evil are according to God so that we don't buy false versions and get fooled into following a false Messiah. God has a standard of good and evil and we need to know it by the Bible not to get sucked into a different definition.
Personally, I think this is the most frightening thing about life. My relationship with God isn't a fearful one. But this idea should be scary. There are people sincerely wanting to follow God who have and will buy into Satan's lies about good and evil. And they are not people who want to be bad.
There’s going to be a day when Jesus comes back to Earth and all the nations are going to fight against him.
19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. - Revalation 19:19-21
A lot of us aren't going to recognize Jesus when he comes. A lot of decent people are going to fight against him (unless we really think all those armies are completely made up of orcs and goblins and other scary bad guys). If nearly all Mankind is involved on the wrong side of this battle, it's dumb to think our family will just avoid being on the wrong side. We are just as gullible as anyone else - maybe even more so.
20 Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!
Satan has always wanted Jesus’ place and position, both as King of the Earth and as God’s Son, the inheritor of God's power. He is also known as the Great Deceiver, meaning he is very good at taking a truth and twisting it just slightly to make it totally backwards. His goal is for us to think he is good and God is evil. And woe to anyone who trades sweet for bitter and bitter for sweet. When we do this, we lose the ability to understand where we're going and what we're doing.
So here's how superheroes fit into the mix.
All movies, art, stories, etc. are essentially propaganda dramatizing a point of view. Every movie or TV episode is telling you something. Superhero stories more than anything else in media are always about epic clashes between super-good and super-evil with the fate of the world usually hanging in the balance. Pretty spiritual stuff. And we are entertained, fascinated, edified and walk away feeling good about good winning.
But does real good truly win? Can drama teach us something that isn't true?
Our Messiah doesn't look much like the usual superheroes. He has unusual abilities, true, but he pointed out they were the abilities every man filled with God's Spirit should have. He was a teacher, not a warrior. He was characterized by authority in his words and humility in his circumstances. He did not wear a cape and have chiseled features (Isaiah says there was nothing about him that should have drawn us to him), but he was perfect according to God in his words and deeds. He willingly died, not exerting any super power to come off the cross. He is going to come back to cause the last war we call Armageddon rather than trying to prevent it. He is going to destroy the world. He did not have a nice romantic sub-plot to his life (though plenty of people have tried to invent one for him) and the Bride he laid his life down for is actually a Kingdom, a place referred to as the New Jerusalem, the City of God.
On the other hand, common threads going through superhero stories are of people with powers nobody else has who spend all their time trying to save the world through their own might and who all have flaws to keep them from being perfect so they can be "approachable". They are a capricious, attractive, angst-ridden bunch who manage to "come down off the cross" any time it looks like they might be crucified. They always get the girl, save the day, defeat the bad guy unequivocally and awe anyone who sees them in action. They are captivating and we have many dramas in books and movies detailing their exploits.
This dramatic storytelling is nothing new. It's very old, as old as humanity itself.
The tale of Gilgamesh is probably the oldest one we know of, a story being told right after the Flood about the flood and the survival of Humankind. It’s a drama because instead of the real facts about a righteous man instructed by God in how to survive (all the glory going to God), Gilgamesh was so wise and powerful that he figured out to build an ark and survive the Great Flood all by himself and did all kinds of fantastical deeds in the process. He was pretty much a god himself rather than a humble man being given instructions by a great and wise God. He was a Superhero, the first one recorded in history.
In ancient cultures, heroes were “gods”, fictional beings stronger than humans with unusual powers over things like weather, peoples’ minds and the laws of physics, while still being flawed and prone to error and downright crazy capriciousness and cruelty. They have illicit romances, family feuds, splendid uniforms and fan conferences (also known as temples, priests, and worshippers bringing sacrifices). They have always had a great draw. People all through the ages have been thrilled and entertained by these dramas. The pantheon of gods was invented for the worship, solace, entertainment, and moral direction of the people inventing them.
And we are told in Scripture that these false gods were backed by evil spirits and were dangerous because they turned people's hearts away from God and toward evil. These gods and their ways taught people that bad was good. They blinded their followers to real good. This was a Satanic thing, these false god claims and cults. It was all to make people worship him instead of the true God.
It’s always been kind of a mystery to me why the Jewish people as a whole did not recognize their Messiah when he came. One of the several things that seems to have happened - judging by how they reacted to the idea of Jesus the Teacher as Messiah - was they liked the "superhero" stories of their day and expected their Messiah was going to be the superhero to beat all superheroes. He was going to march in with supernatural power and destroy all the enemies of the Jews just like Superman. Only better. If Zeus was the king of the gods to the people around them, their Messiah was going to be even more splendid. Take that, all you Gentile oppressors!
Instead, Messiah was a humble working man with a normal family who did some interesting miracles but certainly didn't out-Zeus Zeus. What a disappointment to people conditioned to expect a hero who looked like Hercules.
Today we have become more sophisticated (we think) than to offer animal or children or grain sacrifices to “gods”. We know those old gods aren’t real and we aren’t going to bother butchering some kind of animal and burning it up to make a god happy so we get rain for our vegetables.
(It could be argued we look at Science that way, but that’s a different discussion.)
So the old deception making Satan the good guy had to take a new form for our present generation in Western culture.
It isn't hard to trace where the old gods went. They and their legends became more sophisticated and lived on.
It's not even a secret. The superheroes of today in our Western storytelling struggle with people wanting to call them “gods” and they have to come up with a different explanation for the powers they have. “I’m not a god, just an alien from another planet who has all these powers Humans don’t!” or “I just got bit with a radioactive spider and I can do all these powerful things now” or “I’m just evolving and that’s natural that Humans would evolve into something more intelligent and powerful than we used to be.”
This is so we don't get uncomfortable with the idea of looking up to false gods. It's perfectly okay to "idolize" (and that's a commonly used word) an alien from another planet with wonderful powers since he's not called a god and we all know it's a story, so it's just fun.
But in story after story, we're being taught to accept the leading of powerful beings who we sense don't have a complete grasp of morality but are so awesome that we have to support them because ultimately they're going to save the world. And we don't want our familiar world to be destroyed, right?
Through today's superhero stories - re-tellings of the stories of the gods of ancient cultures - we are learning to be familiar with god-like powerful people fighting for the future of Humankind against an army of also awesomely powerful beings who want to take us over and destroy the Earth and set up a new Kingdom in place of the kingdoms of men. It's being taught that it’s everyone’s duty and highest calling to change and save the world. That's really the underlying theme to the superhero mythos: that we ordinary humans must take on special powers to fight against any force that would overtake our world and remake it.
The problem is...that's exactly what Jesus will do when he comes back. And if that sounds unpleasant or wrong, the storytelling of warped good and evil is doing it's work.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. -Ephesians 6:10-13
There is a strong desire in the comic-book-writing community to bring back the old religions, drawing their new mythology from all the old mythology that goes back as far back as written history can find it. The pantheon of gods is the treasure trove for the story lines of comic book characters. We are being taught to see the characteristics of those ancient gods as admirable and heroic because they are presented in a way that is entertaining and really grabs our attention. Even if we continue to worship our God, it's possible for us to get flaws in our recognition of him just like the Jewish people expect their Messiah to have the characteristics of the ancient mythological heroes to this day. They missed him when he was standing in front of him, so why do we think we wouldn't miss him standing in front of us when he comes back? We are not more holy or wiser than they.
And that is why it might be wise to be very careful of the New Mythology being built today, because it can make us start having a hard time knowing the difference between darkness and light.
If we want to avoid being taken in by a counterfeit Messiah, we really need to learn to recognize the characteristics of the real Messiah and not be fooled by anything else. To not make heroes of people who carry Satan's characteristics and devils of those who carry the Messiah's.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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