I’m a big fan of superhero stuff: movies, comics – mostly Marvel with a small amount of DC on the side. I’m also a Christian, and as you can imagine, that’s a pretty big deal for me. Between these two things, the superhero genre and Christianity, there are a surprising number of crossovers, and it is one of these crossovers that I want to bring to you today, that of identity.
I’ll start with a few quotes:
“It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.” – Batman Begins
“In You we’re living, in You we’re moving, in You we’re finding who we are.” – Finding Who We Are by Kutless
“He is the Eye of Anger…the World Breaker…the Green Scar, Two-Hands, Harkanon, Haarg, Holku…he is Hulk…but all of that is not important. All that matters…all that really matters…is that he is very…VERY…angry.” – World War Hulk: Prologue
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20
Okay, so the Hulk quote might have been shoe-horned in there a bit, but all of those quotes deal, on some level, with who we are and what defines us. Two themes come through, one from the superhero genre, the other from Christianity. The former suggests that it’s our actions that define us, and the latter suggests that we are defined by our relationship – or lack of – with God. The two are by no means mutually exclusive, but they both raise slightly different questions about identity and the way we define ourselves.
I’ll deal with actions first. In the world of superheroes, it is logical that the protagonists would be defined by their actions. If you have super powers and you use them to help people, you’re a hero, and if you use them to cause trouble, you’re a villain. This issue is somewhat clouded by the perceptions of the outside world looking in on the heroes, but essentially, the matter is reasonably straightforward. By the end of a comic, you’ll normally have been able to work out who was fighting for good, and who was fighting for evil. In that world, actions give you a place and a type of moral definition.
Whilst the reality is not necessarily the same for us ‘normals’, there is a lot of truth in that Batman Begins quote, that we’re defined by what we do. We use the term ‘hypocrite’ for those who act in a different way to what they lead us to expect from what they say. Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites on multiple occasions, because they have become so caught up in religiosity that they are no longer acting in accordance with God’s will. Furthermore, the quote resonates with other Biblical quotes, such as ‘faith without works is dead’, and the principle of showing faith through deeds. I would be surprised if many people could argue that actions are not important, or even if anyone would want to argue that. What we do defines us, because it’s what we do that transmits to the world of social interaction. Jesus makes it clear in the Sermon of the Mount that our thoughts are important, but he also makes it clear through his own actions and teaching that followers of God should be looking for ways to practically meet the needs of people around them. Thus, in many ways, who we are is, at least in part, defined by what we do.
The other strand, highlighted by the lyrics from the Kutless song and the verse from Galatians, is that Christians are defined by our relationship with God. Yes, what we do is important in showing who we are, but I believe that it is that relationship with God that lays the foundation for those actions. Our desire to be more like Jesus, that idea of us living in Him, should encourage us to act in a certain way, demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit, looking to help people where we can, meet needs and conduct ourselves in a certain way. The standards are high, there’s no escaping that, that’s why we need grace, but they’re there to give us a model to live by. The information imparted by the Bible’s authors show us how to form a right relationship with God and indicate what the results of that should be. Christianity is about looking outwards as well as inwards. Yes, there are elements of self-worth and improvement (how do you ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ if you don’t know how to love yourself?), but you cannot escape from the fact that Jesus calls us to go into the world and do greater things than he has done. Scary, right? But also exciting. All this is made possible through the grace of God that allows us to have a relationship with Him.
In conclusion, as a Christian, I am defined primarily by my relationship with God. The next step is showing that relationship through my actions. Do I always manage this? Of course not! But that doesn’t mean we should try. Our actions are the way we show the world who we are, as well as affirming our identity to ourselves.
See, superhero stuff can be profound.
P.S. I deserve a medal for writing this through the ridiculously loud, incredibly awful music resonating around my corridor like an angry buffalo.