As a mom of boys, I should have known the superhero talk would show up soon.
I don’t mind the heros, really. Fun costumes, leaping buildings in a single bound, saving the world. That’s good stuff. But I’m having trouble talking to my kids about the “bad guys.”
It started back when guns arrived in our home. I have no idea how, but it seems boys are naturally wired to shoot. Once H Boy went for a nice little nature walk and came upon a stick the size of his hand in the shape of – you guessed it – a “shooter” as they call them around here. So the rule quickly became that we don’t shoot our sisters, or people in general – only “the bad guys.”
But my question quickly became: what makes them so “bad”?
Not only is this a theological question, about understanding God’s view of humanity and creation and our nature, but it’s also an anthropological question: how do people think about people.
Personally, the theological answer came quicker and easier. God loves all people. God created all people and called them “good.” God’s Spirit can live in any person. If from “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” we call came… well, we all came from the same dirt. I cannot come up with a reasonable explanation to why God would make one person good while another evil.
In Ephesians we’re told that our battle is not with “flesh and blood but with the powers and principalities of this world.” We’re not fighting bad guys. The problem isn’t the people, it’s the spirit which inhabits them. And just as I believe something evil can take root in a person, I believe more so that God’s Spirit can take root and that God’s Spirit always wins.
So, if God didn’t make them “bad guys”, the question is: who did? And why?
I realize a majority of the population doesn’t struggle with these issues, but this one keeps plaguing me. Because, honestly, my kids ask. They asked. All I could offer was, “well, maybe somebody wasn’t very nice to them when they were growing up, so they became mean to others.”
I thought it was a fair response?
And why should I care? Do my kids really care? It’s just play, after all. Superheros. Climbing buildings and such.
But what if we’re somehow programming a worldview into our children that some people are inherently bad? So bad, in fact, that we must shoot them rather than hope that they be redeemed*. So when they encounter bad things and wrongs and meanness – these things become unchangeable.
All of a sudden, we’ve put limits on God’s ability to change, to bring something back into the realm of Good.
What does that tell our children, who grow into adults, when they someday find themselves on the side of doing something bad and wrong and mean? Are they all of a sudden on the other side of redeemable? What act, exactly, is beyond the reach of God?
But if we’re all from the same dirt, created in the goodness of God, perhaps there’s room for hope to spring up. If the “bad guys” became so bad because of bad things happening to them, then maybe goodness can return once good things happen to them. This is where the superhero story might come in handy.
When I went away to youth director boot camp, I met Spiderman Dan, a fantastic guy who was ahead of the comic craze. He personally chose Spiderman because ingrained in the saga was the notion that “with great power comes great responsibility”. That’s a superhero I can buy into, because it’s similar to the empowering words of Jesus, “to whom much is given, much is required.”
I think I can let my little boy roam around in the blue suit (for 2 days straight, mind you, including naps and bedtime) when it becomes a platform for growing him in his awareness that how he treats other people matters. We’ve been entrusted to fill this world with good things. When we encounter “bad guys” who perhaps didn’t get the same start we did, we have a chance to see them as redeemable when we use our superpowers. Spirit Powers.
Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Self-control.
Sure, “bad guys” exist.
But they don’t have to.
*Yes, you are reading some pacifism here. So shoot me.**
**Totally on purpose.
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