“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22)
The explosion of superheroes in today’s culture took me by surprise. Weren’t they the obsession of the early days of the modern world, before every one of us was zipping around in planes and surfing the world on the internet? Yet, now every second film seems to involve someone flying up, up and away in spandex. From the Fantastic Four to The Incredibles (can’t wait for the sequel), every superhero has a complete range of merchandise to demonstrate just how much they have taken over culture.
But today’s heroes, both in real life and reel life, can be hard to distinguish from the villains. There are drug dealers who are praised for their resourcefulness. Violent bullies who are held up as role models. Footballers who get worshipped no matter how gutter-bound their behaviour is between games. How are we meant to know who the good guys are anymore?
At one level, this is good. The perfect hero can be kind of uninteresting and hard to believe. Everyone has a flaw, don’t they? Everyone is covering for something or exaggerating their abilities and character in one way or another. Heroes in today’s culture are certainly the warts and all types. We see it on the sporting field. We love a player’s courage and strength. But then they yell at the referee, or do something unmentionable in a nightclub, and all those heroics come under question. The hero and the villain are like Jekyll and Hyde before the rugby league judiciary every week.
This desire for a hero is very close to the human heart. Perhaps it is part of our desperate need to be rescued, or our hope that someone out there has everything under control. Perhaps we need to know that where we are weak, someone else can be strong.
But the urge to be a hero is also powerful within us. Deep down, I’m convinced people want to be heroes more than villains. I remembered this again recently when watching a news story about some runabout teenage bloke who rescued an old man from a burning car following an accident. Talking to camera, they were elevated, slightly surprised at themselves, and feeling like better versions of the emergent adults they had disliked in the mirror that morning. They might talk like bad-boys, but given the opportunity to rise to a need, they were elated to be good guys.
The seed of heroism lies within, waiting to be watered. But it already contains the villainy that can overwhelm its growth and taint its flowers. It seems that we are destined to bounce between these poles, hero and villain. When tempted to villainy, it’s worth remembering what it feels like to be celebrated rather than reviled. When you give in to temptation, the consequences ring out for generations to come: ask any thief, liar, murderer, adulterer. Anyone, really. But when you are a lifesaver, carer, rescuer, giver or friend, your good deeds echo in the heavens and (the Bible tells us in Matthew 5:16) bring glory to God the Father.
In the end, I think we all hope to be heroes rather than villains. But we’re just so unreliable. As is every other hero we’ve seen on screen or watched in action. Thank God there is someone to step in for us at just the right moment, with just the right superpowers to save us from ourselves.
Greg Clarke is CEO of Bible Society Australia and author of the 2014 Australian Christian Book of the Year, The Great Bible Swindle.