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Telling fictional stories is a powerful way to make a point with humans. Both Yahweh and Jesus told fictional stories to people. Fiction becomes a problem when we underestimate its influence on us and don’t stop to really think about the messages we are absorbing. For example, watching hours upon hours of people brutalizing each other on screen has a numbing effect on you. The concept of people hurting other people ceases to be the disturbing thing that God wants it to be, and soon you’re thinking it would be no big deal to hurt someone yourself.
Watching people roll around in the sack together also messes with your mind. In movies, people always have simultaneous orgasms which go on for a ridiculous amount of time. Everyone looks airbrushed in bed. Supposed virgins always get it right the first time. No one ever gets hit with some wave of unprocessed emotion that causes them to react in ways that really hurt their partner’s feelings. Everyone goes into the thing with a “turn me on” attitude instead of seeing their partner as a complex person who has their own set of fears and insecurities. When’s the last time you saw a movie plot involve a man’s equipment failing him in the critical moment so that the female partner could teach us all a lesson on being kind and sensitive in the midst of an embarrassing situation? When do we ever see frigidity in bed met with compassion and patience? In the movies, it’s constantly communicated that to not be totally smooth and confident in bed is a humiliation you’ll never be able to live down. Men and women are viewed as orgasm producing machines and then evaluated by the quality of the product they are putting out. When the female character talks about a man being “good in bed”, she is really talking about her own sensual pleasure, as if that’s the only thing sex is about for her. Everyone is utterly self-absorbed and just looking for their next sensual rush. The value of a relationship centers around bedroom activities. “If the sex isn’t good, who needs him?” is a common mindset. Constantly focusing on such a disgusting view of sex will really mess with your mind and set you up to have expectations that no real human can ever meet, thus you will find yourself struggling to feel satisfied through normal means.
When everyone looks perfect in the movies, you go looking for perfection in this world, only that perfection doesn’t exist. When you see people in movies getting away with demanding that everyone else revolve around them, and succeeding at living way beyond their means (check out the sizes of some of those set houses), you end up forming the same expectations for your own life. The main character is a waitress, but she lives in a penthouse. Yeah, that’s real life.
Relationships aren’t work in the movies, they’re supercharged emotional roller coasters and every problem is resolved by making out. There is no sense of commitment, no sense of honor or duty. There’s only a mentality of, “As long as you turn me on, I’ll stick around. When you start failing to meet my demands, I’m out of here.”
When it comes to superhero movies, there are good and bad ways to handle the plot. The ideal superhero movie would have the hero recognizing that his power is both a gift and a great responsibility. He’d resolve to take the moral highroad and search for ways to honor God with his power. Often superheroes are portrayed as wanting to take the moral highroad at first, but if you pay attention to the plot, the heroes often end up becoming just like their enemies only they find ways to justify their moral decline. We start off hating the bad guy because he lies and cheats and hurts innocent people. But soon that’s what the hero is doing as well, only the story tells us it’s okay because the hero has a worthy cause. In other words, it’s okay to chuck morals out the window in order to accomplish something that we personally feel is important. This is the same mentality that justifies slaughtering and torturing men on the battlefield: once we decide that a certain goal must be attained at all costs, we throw morals out the window. The problem here is that no one is acknowledging how corrupt we all are. While there are certainly times when war is necessary, we humans can justify anything to ourselves, which is why we can’t count on our own sense of morals to keep us on the right track. We need to be relying on a source of accountability that is outside of ourselves—that’s where God comes into it.
In real life, God doesn’t say it’s okay for us to abandon His moral code just because someone we love is in peril. He doesn’t say it’s okay for us to live a life of deception in order to further some personal agenda. Why is it wrong when the bad guy sneaks into the hero’s house and steals the hero’s equipment, but it’s okay for the hero to later break into the bad guy’s house and steal the bad guy’s stuff? Superhero movies usually promote an obnoxious double-standard: the guy who is labeled as “evil” gets condemned for breaking some version of God’s moral code (don’t lie, steal, kill, etc.). But the hero who is labeled as “good” can do all the same crimes and we’re supposed to admire him. This is a dangerous mentality to practice in real life.
Now the physical, psychological, and emotional abuse these superheroes endure is utterly ridiculous. No man (or woman) could possibly endure such things and go on functioning as a rational human being. They’d all be crippled by PTSD, they’d all be having horrific nightmares, their concentration would be blown, their moods would be dark and volatile, and they’d all end up as drug addicts from all the pain pills they were constantly popping just to keep going. Humans are extremely frail creatures, but superhero stories are always teaching us that with the right equipment, we could push past our limits and do the supernatural. Well, no, we couldn’t. Even if we were driving around in invincible armor, we would end up mentally damaged by the things we were doing from within that armor. Simply removing the threat of physical harm doesn’t protect us from the torment of moral dilemmas. Simply having super strength doesn’t shield us from conviction and self-loathing.
All of that said, superhero movies can communicate some very useful lessons about leadership and the cost of having great power. Now and then there’s a movie that does a decent job of portraying how fickle human fans are. When the hero is saving their hides, they’re all worshiping him. But the minute some lie is circulated about the hero, or the minute he does something they don’t understand, out comes the slander and hate.
“Higher callings” are relationship killers—some superhero movies do a good job of communicating this principle as well. We see the hero constantly missing dates with his teary-eyed girlfriend until she finally leaves him for someone who can actually be there for her. Some movies do a good job of capturing the humanity of the hero, and the struggle he has to get his own emotional needs met in the midst of a lifestyle that severely isolates him from other people. Then there are the unreasonable expectations that form—once the hero saves the day, people expect him to keep on saving it. People see a source of power, not a human being. People demand the impossible of the hero until he ends up feeling majorly discouraged and drained.
Every superhero is given some major vulnerability, and it’s usually a relationship. At some point the bad guy targets this vulnerability, at which point the hero’s character is royally tested. A lot of superhero movies do a good job of communicating how hard it is to stay on the moral high ground when we are faced with losing someone we love. A common theme we find throughout movies is that it is our hearts, not our bodies, that are our weakest points.
The next time you watch a superhero movie, remember that God is watching with you and invite Him to use the thing to teach you some useful insights. We want to be continually maturing in life, and movies can provide some good food for thought. If you can learn from the mistakes of others, then you can spare yourself a lot of misery. So as you watch your superhero in action, ask God what He thinks about the choices the hero is making. After all, the idea of a man going around doing supernatural feats isn’t totally farfetched. Samson was a real man who did many superhuman things. But Samson was also a total yuck who probably wound up in Hell. People saw Elijah call down fire from Heaven. They saw Elisha raising people from the dead. They saw Moses parting a sea, calling down plagues on Egypt, and causing water to stream from rocks. People saw Paul and Peter heal people of all kinds of illnesses. God has a long history of performing jaw dropping miracles through people, and when He does, He rarely gets the credit. The human instrument always ends up exalted in God’s place, and the same thing happens in our superhero movies. So how does your hero react to the praise of others? If you were in his place, how would God want you to react? You can’t stop people from worshiping you, but you can control your own internal response to that worship. Inside your soul, you choose to either accept or reject the glory that others are heaping upon you.
When crunch time comes for your hero, observe how he handles the pressure to compromise his character and ask God for insight. Did your hero make the best choice ,or is God showing you how he missed the mark?
Having great power always involves personal sacrifice. How does your hero handle the cost of his calling? Does he accept that he can’t have everything, or does he insist on having the girl and the power, too? As you watch the hero’s supporting cast in action, consider what it would be like to support such a person. They’re gone a lot. You can’t count on them. You know that saving the day will always be their top priority. But still, heroes are humans and they need emotional support just like everyone else if they’re going to do their job. Are you the kind of person that God could call on to support a “hero” today? Are you cut out to be the spouse of a pastor, doctor, missionary, soldier, or police officer? There are many people in this world who God has called into some very consuming lines of work. In an ideal world, such people would be released from the need for personal relationships because they have such limited resources available to spend on cultivating them. But in real life, God doesn’t free us up from some degree of need for other relationships, and this makes things complicated. So how do you support someone who has been given a very consuming calling by God? Look at those teary-eyed girlfriends that the superheroes in the movies are always standing up and ask yourself, “Is she making the right choice waiting around for this guy? What can she do to help herself deal with this situation better?” When you’re called to support a hero, you have to be well-grounded in God if you’re going to be able to make it on the emotional scraps that your hero has to offer.
Maybe you identify more with the hero than the hero’s supporters. If this is the case, you could benefit by really scrutinizing the choices your movie hero makes. A classic pitfall for heroes is taking on too much responsibility. The hero often feels like the fact that he could possibly save the world means that he is obligated to try. But is he? In real life, is an exhausted pastor being selfish for not rushing down to the hospital at 2:00 am when his parishioner calls? Is a doctor being selfish to not answer his phone? When is it ever okay for a hero to take a day off? It has to be okay sometime, because we are humans, not machines. How well does your fictional hero handle the weight of responsibility? Is he easy for bad guys to guilt into taking the blame for things that are not his fault?
Movie heroes are a unique breed. They barely sleep, they never eat, they’re able to shake off injuries and hangovers in a matter of minutes, and they’re always able to focus on the crisis at hand no matter what is happening in their personal lives. Is this realistic? Not hardly, but if you don’t realize how unrealistic it is, you’re going to end up feeling that much more guilty for not meeting people’s unreasonable expectations. Burnout is a real thing, and it’s a serious situation. When you find yourself wanting to hide out from the world, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means you’ve been pushing yourself too hard. Hero burnout in the movies is portrayed as some five minute funk that the sexy girlfriend kisses him out of. In real life, true burnout is a much more crippling syndrome that takes a lot of time and rest to recover from. It’s important to be able to recognize when a movie is handing you a totally ludicrous depiction of life. While ludicrous can be fun, we need to remember that fiction is powerful, and we don’t want to let our entertainment choices have a negative effect on our minds. This is why we need to stay connected with God as we watch movies, play video games, read books, or engage in any other form of fictional entertainment. Involving God in our entertainment helps us stay grounded in truth and results in opportunities for growth.
Because most movies have very negative elements in them, Christians often feel guilty about the things that they watch, and that guilt causes them to intentionally distance themselves from God until the movie is over. This is no good. When we try to hide our less-than-perfect sides from God, we end up never talking to Him because none of us are perfect. So rather than keep God at arm’s length, start consciously involving Him in the things that you do and ask Him to help you get closer to Him. God can turn any experience into a productive spiritual lesson. We want to grow, not stagnate.
Now before we leave this subject, there’s one more point we need to touch on. When the end times begin, we’re all going to be confronted with a new kind of superhero: God’s end time prophet. As God performs epic miracles through this person, how will He want you to respond to His representative? It’s one thing to see our fictional superheroes performing supernatural feats in movies, but it’s quite a different deal to see such things happening in real life to the people we care about. God’s end time prophet is going to both save and destroy lives. This person might show up on your doorstep one day, or in your hometown. Depending on how this person has affected the people and things you care most about in this world, you might find yourself having some very strong impulses to applaud or attack them. Now is the time to give serious thought to how God wants you to interact with His prophet so that you will be ready to honor Him when the time comes. For help with this, see Preparing for the End Times: Interacting with God’s Prophet. (If you are in law enforcement, also see Preparing for the End Times: The Law vs. God’s Prophet).
Shepherd Burnout: Help for Pastors