As a kid, I loved comic books. I was fascinated by the idea of having super powers — flying, teleporting around the world with the blink of an eye, reading people’s minds, having super strength. To this day, I gleefully head to the movie theater to watch my childhood daydreams brought to life, and I love every minute.
I was also a faithful churchgoer as a child and youth. Every Sunday, I was there in the red pews, singing (badly), praying, and listening to the sermons. I loved the church youth group, and like most people, I assume, the periphery of the church experience — holiday events, pot luck meals, social gatherings — held more appeal and meaning for me than the underlying church orthodoxy. Nevertheless, over the years, I absorbed the basic tenets of a Methodist belief system and came to know and understand the story of Jesus.
Despite years of comic book reading and years of churchgoing, I found myself gobsmacked five years ago when I listened to comedian Patton Oswalt riff on Jesus’s super powers. I had never considered the miracles of Jesus, such as walking on water, raising people from the dead and multiplying loaves of bread and fishes to be super powers. Obviously, Jesus’s miracles and Superman’s ability to fly are both extra-human, but, in my mind, I had never conflated the two. It was one of those moments where the scaffolding of your mind collapses under the power and weight of a new idea.
Comic books, like all great art, are escapism. A good comic book story lifts you out of the here and now and takes your mind to a different time and place and allows you to transform your weak body and trifling spirit into something stronger, something faster, something amazing. In those childhood daydreams as you imagine yourself web-slinging from building to building like Spiderman, or as you defeat the super baddie with your super speed and strength, your own tiny world and tiny problems no longer matter. They fade away for those precious few moments, and you gain the greatest super power of them all, even if only temporarily, to recreate yourself.
The story of Jesus offers the same escapism. Whether it’s the miracles of Jesus or the promise of Heaven, religion dangles the hope and promise of something better. And, by also promising the forgiveness of sins, the story of Jesus, and Christianity as a whole, the true believer can recreate himself or herself, almost at the blink of an eye.
As I got older, comic books lost a little luster. Sure, I still found the stories entertaining, and, as mentioned, I love the movies that now bring my heroes to life in new and exciting ways. But I no longer dream of having super powers, at least not in the same way. We grow up, mature (a little), understand more of the world, appreciate its grays and nuances, and go about the real heroic challenge of creating a life for ourselves, mortal power and all. Our mind places our comic book loves on the back shelves of our spirit, perhaps next to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. We appreciate them for what they are, but now we define their magic differently.
Jesus sits on that same shelf in my spirit. I no longer believe in God (if I ever really did), and I don’t believe a man ever walked on water or raised people from the dead, if the historical Jesus even existed in the first place. That said, the lessons we can take from Jesus’s miracles/super powers, just like the lessons we can take from Superman’s goodness or Thor’s honor, are timeless and worth daydreaming about. Part of the human experience is the desire to be more than we are, to be delivered somehow from the brokenness we find ourselves in.
Whether your salvation is from Jesus or Wonder Woman, it’s fine by me. No matter what, though, you must only use your powers for good and not evil.