After far too long of having nothing worthwhile to watch, my wife and I have finally gotten into a new (to us) series: The Flash.
We are only a handful of episodes in at this point, but we are loving it. It’s not some super mind-blowingly awesome show with crazy good special effects. Nor is it (at this point) a terribly compelling story with tons of twists and turns. But it’s fun.
We are watching the show because it is fun.
It’s fun to see what “the fastest man on earth” does in the span of 45 minutes. It’s cool to see what all the other “meta-humans” can do as well – so far I really like the girl who can turn any object into an explosive. That would be awesome; I would have loved that as a teenager.
Who am I kidding? I’d love it now! After all, I’ve got a used car that I can’t seem to sell…
In fact, I think this question of what one would do with superpowers is one of the reasons that stories about superheroes are so much fun. After all, we see superheroes, those who have chosen to be responsible with their powers, but we also see villains, those who have chosen to use their powers for gain.
Recently, Steve and I recorded an episode of Pop Culture Coffee Hour about the Netflix original series, Daredevil, and we discussed what life with superpowers would be like. In particular, we discussed whether we’d be heroes or villains.
Of course, I’d like to think that I would choose to do good, but perhaps I’m just kidding myself? Maybe the only reason I don’t do awful things like robbing banks is simply because I know I can’t get away with it. But if I were bulletproof? I don’t know…
Initially, this makes me think that I’m grateful that people don’t have superpowers, as if that makes questions of superheroes and supervillains irrelevant.
But it doesn’t.
With or without superpowers, each of us is capable of doing supreme good, and each of us is capable of supreme destruction.
It feels like almost every other day when I turn my iPhone, swipe over to the news feed and see that more ordinary people were killed by other ordinary people. The amount of damage that just one person can do is terrifying.
And they do it all without superpowers. They do it with something far more powerful: their very own lives.
There is something terrifyingly powerful about the idea of a person who is willing to die for the sake of death. When one’s own death is suddenly a tool in a quest for achieving a “greater good” or making a statement or serving an ideal, then one can become capable of all kinds of evil, destroying as many other lives as possible before eventually destroying one’s own.
I suppose one can imagine how someone could make the jump from the biological reality of death and turn it into a quest for meaning. Perhaps this is why we see people making names for themselves through violent acts that serve some “higher” purpose, forfeiting their lives while taking out others (even the Villain is the hero in his own story).The Villain, in order to be a good villain, must be willing to die for his cause. Total domination of the world is not for the faint of heart.
But what of the path of the Hero?
The path of the Hero is also marked by a willingness to die, but it is a willingness to die on behalf of others, to lay down one’s own life out of love for another rather than dying to serve an idolatrous obsession with a cause or an ideal.
This is the legacy of people like Mother Teresa and St. Panteleimon, people who regularly laid down their lives for the good of others long before they met death. People who profoundly impacted the world for the sake of God’s Kingdom by being willing to sacrifice their own success, their own comfort for the sake of their neighbors.
After all, we’re all going to die anyway. But what will we choose? A life-giving death or a death that only brings forth more death?
Will we be heroes? Or will we be villains?
We don’t need superpowers to be either.
Will we spend our lives ruthlessly seeking our own fulfillment? Will we dominate others through fear?
Or will we recognize that we have already died with Christ in the waters of baptism, that we can now use our lives as Christ used His, heroically laying them down for the sake of our neighbor?
Each of us stands on the brink of the great cliff of death and there are two paths off of it: one of villainy, the other of heroism. Which will you choose?
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his first MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.