Originally posted July 25, 2016
Movies have a way of serving as social, political, and sometimes theological commentaries in art form. My wife and I are huge fans of movies and one of our favorite things to do is go watch a film in the theater or even stay in on a Friday or Saturday night and watch something on-demand. We saw Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in theaters back in March, and being the huge Batman fan that I am, I had to purchase the blu-ray when it came out last week as well.
Superhero films, in general, have had monumental success over the last decade or so (although Batman v Superman wasn't met with the greatest reviews Review). Collectively, they have a tendency to awaken the sense of justice that all human beings have. Aside from the special effects and hold-on-to-the-edge-of-your-seat fight scenes, I really think the biggest reason we enjoy these movies is that we love to see justice prevail. Superheroes accomplish what our governments are often unable to do in the real world. We cheer silently cheer when the Avengers save our planet from imminent destruction or when Batman saves the people of Gotham again and again from psychopaths like R'as al Ghul, Bane, and the Joker. And who doesn't love the idea that it was really Captain America who got the job done in WWII? The evil that lurks in the shadows of our real life society are easily dealt with by the fictional men, women, and aliens who possess the super ability to make quick work of the bad guys that are so hard for our human governments to deal with. And a part of us wishes they were real. We all, without exception, know that evil is a real issue and we desire to see the world's problems solved. So, we grab our $7 popcorn, pay $12 for a seat, and kick back and watch our heroes handle justice the way we want it handled and look cool doing it.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is one of the most explicit theological commentaries I have ever seen on film, especially in the superhero genre, and its discussion of justice more than piqued my interest. The supposed conflict of "God versus man; day versus night..." is set up right from the beginning of the movie. Bruce Wayne's friend prays to God for mercy on his soul as one of the Wayne Enterprises buildings collapses in the midst of Superman's battle with General Zod. Alfred lectures Wayne about how the feeling of powerlessness in light of the power of "gods" turns "good men cruel." Senator Finch, in a congressional hearing, asked the rhetorical question, "What is good?" only to answer it with a comment about good being a "conversation" in a democracy. Reference after reference, metaphor after metaphor, BvS is an unapologetic three hour discussion about theology. Of all the references, however, none is more telling than this one:
Lex Luthor's "Problem of Evil" Speech (Start at 1:00, end at 2:15)
"If God is all-powerful, then he cannot be all-good. And if he is all-good, then he cannot be all-powerful." - Lex Luthor
Luthor's confident assertion is hardly original, but it does pose a question that is very real in many people's lives - maybe even yours. Luthor alluded to "daddy's fists" which is a reference to an abusive father in the character's past. We can make the safe assumption that as Luthor grew older and came to a greater understanding of the meaning of his upbringing that no good and powerful god would allow a child to go through that. The only other possibility, in his mind, was that God may exist and may actually be good but isn't powerful enough to have stopped the pain he felt as a boy. The evil that Luthor experienced as a child is reality for far too many children around the world, and it is a problem.
As I stated before, the existence of evil in this world is no secret to anyone. Evil is real; it is true, and that fact cannot be denied by anyone. Wars, poverty, mass shootings, drug and human trafficking, and even the day-to-day struggles we have with work, relationships, and health are all examples of evil's reality and reign. In light of that, the Bible boldly claims that "
he Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made" (Psalm 145:9). How can both realities be true? How can God be good to all yet many people are subjected to the horrendous evils listed above?
When God created human beings, he created them and everything else "good" (Genesis 1 & 2). That means that everything in creation served its purpose in reflecting the goodness and glory of God. When it functions correctly this world shows God's power, his wisdom, his detail, and his superiority above all other things in existence. Human beings were intended to do the same thing that a properly functioning creation would do: reflect the goodness and glory of God. Yet, it's pretty obvious that we don't. In spite of Bruce Wayne's claim to Wonder Woman at the end of the movie that "Men are still good," men are not still good. Men are the very real cause of the vast majority of the evil we see in the world. It was a man who abused young Lex Luthor and it is men (and women) who are responsible for wars, violence, drugs, kidnapping, prostitution and the like.
Man and woman (Adam and Eve) rebelled against God in Genesis 3 by disobeying God's clear commands in favor of doing what they felt to be right. As a result, every human being who has ever existed since that day has followed suit. Rather than walk in the clear direction of Scripture we are content with paving our own way, believing ourselves to be good and wise. And as we fumble through life trying to do things on our own terms we inevitably mess things up along the way and then spend tons of money on self-help books, CDs, counselors (and movies!) to numb or fix our problems. The reality is that if every person on the planet were to fully submit himself to the God of the Bible then the problems we see would essentially vanish. This may seem like an unrealistic approach to the problem, but it is the biblical solution.
(*Parenthetical note: I know some may object on the basis of the countless people past and present who have claimed to be Christian but done unspeakable evil anyway. That is also true, but a subject for another day. For now, let it suffice to say that not all who claim to be Christians are Christians, and even those who are authentic believers are far from perfect. Christians are undeserving recipients of grace, not moral superheroes who have earned God's blessing.)
When we address the problem of evil by faulting God we are not being truthful. We are lying to ourselves and to the world, making it seem as though we are victims in a broken world. This sort of thinking is entirely backward. More accurately, we are contributors to a broken world. Our propensity to be selfish, angry, lustful, dishonest, prideful, and covetous sets off an infinite chain reaction beginning with the people with whom interact on a daily basis. How many people react to our selfishness with kindness? To our anger with love? To our dishonesty with integrity? Do you react to others that way every time you are wronged? Maybe there are some who do, but we can agree that those people are rare and not without struggles of their own.
Finally, before attempting to dismantle the biblical position on the problem of evil (which, in case you missed it, is US!), think of the alternative explanations. Is a god who is less than all-powerful worthy of your worship and devotion? Is a god like that even a logical possibility? How do we define what objective evil and objective good are without an all-powerful and all-wise God to make the final judgment? Would we have purpose or destiny without such a God in existence? These are real issues that people should wrestle with before being overcome with a delusional confidence like Lex Luthor's that will only lead to their demise. God is not at fault for the evil we face.
And only God, because of his deep love for humanity, can be the solution. He made a way by intervening in our world in the form of Jesus Christ who took on the punishment we deserve for our role in the existence of evil. He resurrected from the grave and defeated death once and for all. And if that weren't enough, he promises to return, wipe away evil, and usher in a new heavens and new earth in which all things function as God intended: without sin. Don't put your faith in your own intellect or understanding of evil's place in the world; put your faith in Christ and he will save you from the evil of this world. We cannot save ourselves.