Superman Returns

Well, I just got around to watching Superman Returns the other night, since we were home just relaxing and it happened to be on pay-per-view. At this point I don’t want to offer anything like a full review of the movie. I just want to reflect for a moment on the messianic theme that runs throughout.

I have to say, first, that it’s so obvious as to be almost heavy-handed. From Superman’s extraterrestrial origin and name (Kal-El, which sounds suspiciously like the Hebrew words for “voice of God” [קל-אל] or perhaps “all that God is” [כל-אל]) and the early remarks of Jor-El concerning humanity — “They can be a great people, Kal-El. They wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son” (cf. John 3:16, for example) — to the later scenes of Superman become vulnerable, beaten by guards, pierced, evil apparently triumphant as the hero falls (in crucified form, mind you), but conquering evil in his death, laid to rest in white in a room where he’s visited by the woman, but then disappearing, raised apparently, having vacated the room through an opened window, the parallels are all so embarrassingly transparent. But they are not Christian! Be very clear about this.

The movie presents people as basically good, lost only in the sense of confused or distracted, more victims of some sort of amorphous evil in which they really play little part and for which they have little or no responsibility, and who only need “light to show the way” in order to become all they have the capacity to be, to be “great,” and so in some way save themselves. It’s the sort of “Savior” and “salvation” the world would like — all benefit and no cost, affirmation without conviction, acceptance without repentance, deliverance without demand. It reminds me of Niebuhr’s caricature of liberal theology: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

Literarily, Superman may present us with some mythic “Christ-figure,” and may point in some way to the deep longing we know we have in our hearts to be “saved,” but biblically and theologically he is himself αντιχριστος, an anti-Christ, a popular but pathetic proxy for Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, who alone is mighty to save us from all that really threatens to undo us forever!

— Pastor Spencer

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