Our world is “a very nasty place. Full of—enemies.” Christians don’t want to be sheltered and sentimentalist, hiding from the reality of our grimdark world. At the same time, our victorious Lord calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. How can fantastical stories, about heroes versus villains, help us train to show love to our enemies even if we must fight them?
Concession stand: defeat the final boss edition
- We haven’t snacked from here in some time, but these concessions are hot!
- This episode builds off our fall episode 88 and our spring episode 103.
- And yes, this topic touches on some now-current debates among Christians.
- Yes, that includes the pro-life vs. abortion debate. Also about “winsomeness.”
- Under those discussions may lie the bigger question about loving enemies.
- Often we might assume, “We love our enemies by giving them the gospel.”
- And then we may assume, “We remove obstacles, such as politics or ‘bad tone.'”
- We might, however, retreat and ask, “Is this emphasis on public witness correct?”
- Christians have more jobs than evangelism. We’re also creators and citizens.
- In either case, if we only focus on the Great Commission, we ignore other truths.
- We have a whole Old Testament, plus wisdom literature, about these issues.
- All of Scripture reminds us that we have many hats to wear. It’s complicated.
- Biggest concession: that’s another article or podcast. We emphasize fiction.
- We’ll focus on three heroes who had to love their enemies yet fight them.
- For each, we will ask: how can hero save his people yet also save his enemy?
1. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader in the Star Wars trilogy
- For the full quote, see Stephen’s article, “Don’t Embrace the Power of the Dark Side.“
- What are Luke’s jobs? He is a Rebel. Brother. And son of Anakin Skywalker.
- As a Rebel, Luke must fight for a righteous cause that could save billions.
- As a brother, Luke hears his enemy threaten the honor and life of his sister.
- As a son, Luke wants to connect with his father and maybe even redeem him.
- But first Luke identifies as a Jedi, an individual hero who wields the Light Side.
- In this unseen morality, we know Luke would be wrong to use the Dark Side.
- This sets inner and outer conflicts: can Luke fulfill all of these conflicting jobs?
- Result: Luke finds a way to save his people, and also help “save” his enemy.
- Still, the story ensures Darth Vader’s death. He is redeemed, yet also punished.
2. Peter Parker versus Venom in Spider-Man 3 (2007)
- We’ll give this storyline a shorter setup, for the oft-maligned superhero film.
- Peter Parker has similar battles with the man who really did help kill his uncle.
- Meanwhile he’s also fighting a rival photographer and his own power-abuse.
- We see his “dark side” literally, with his aggression-amplifying black suit.
- People laugh at the dorky-dance moments, but this story does turn dark.
- Peter even emotionally and physically assaults the love of his life, Mary Jane.
- He repents soon after, in a church, for a very intense “cleansing” scene.
- But then his own “sin” spills down onto a new enemy, who becomes Venom.
- Peter has sinned against Eddie, but Eddie is still responsible for his own sin.
- They must fight, but to the very end, Peter tries to avoid lethal attacks.
- A spectacular finale echoes Peter’s own repentance: “music” weakens Venom.
- But ultimately, Eddie is destroyed by his own craving for wicked power.
- Result: Peter finds a way to save his people, and he tries to save his enemy, but can’t.
3. Superman versus General Zod in Man of Steel (2013)
- Once more we see a darker reflection of our hero, in the form of General Zod.
- This story, however, is less about any threat of Kal-El becoming like Zod.
- They are more traditional enemies, with irreconcilable goals for Earth.
- Superman fights to save Smallville, then a larger city he does not yet know.
- Zod soon finds new powers; famously, there’s no way for Superman to win.
- They fight, and fight and fight, leveling cities, making unavoidable damage.
- Finally the story places Superman in an absolutely un-winnable scenario.
- To this day (nine years later) many fans hate this or try to explain it away.
- Just fly away! Just cover his eyes! Just fly really fast and turn back time!
- No, no, and no to all the others. This scenario is meant to challenge us.
- Superman begs Zod to stop, but Zod says, “never.” This seals Zod’s doom.
- Result: Superman saves (most of) his people, but is forced to kill his enemy.
- That’s a hard reality: that you may love your enemy, but need to defeat him.
- Honestly, Christians need to accept living in a dark world with these ethics.
- This is a hard saying. For that, theologians have argued civic law and just war.
- But you can’t stop with sentimental views of “love” or simple missionary talk.
- These shallow notions weaken our stories, and frustrate our public witness.
- As for how to do this while reflecting Christ’s mercy and teaching his gospel?
- Well, that’s why we need complex stories, not just morals, to wrestle with this.
Abigail remarked on Stephen’s article “How Spider-Man Saved My Marriage Before It Even Began“:
A worthy celebration of the legacy and lessons of the Spider-Man films! They are still excellent (though flawed, of course), and it’s nice to take time to remember the deeper reasons why.
One hero in the Guild listened to episode 110 about a “golden age”:
Rather than following a timeline like Stone Age – Bronze Age – Iron Age, literary genres usually proceed from a Golden Age in the past to a Silver Age resurgence. Science fiction went from there to a New Wave period to a “-Punk” period, and “New Traditionalists” seem to rise up as often in science fiction as they do in country music.
Writers usually write what they like to read.
I agree with Stephen that supply is exceeding demand at this stage. I regularly participate in a general audience science fiction book club as well, and I have to think about things like my time and financial budgets.
Next on Fantastical Truth
After a heavy topic like that, we feel ready for some lighter fare. So our next episode is also multiple-choice. This will be either a guest appearance related to the Florida conference, or perhaps some pro tips about how to build a personal reading library, with physical bookshelves, checkout policies, the works. Zack has been really getting into this, and we can hear what he’s found.
Explore the best Christian-made fantasy, sci-fi, and beyond, and apply these stories' meanings in the real world Jesus calls us to serve.