The Problem with Superheroes and Saints

There are stories that our culture tells us over and over again that shape our reality, like that of the Superhero. These stories ring true for us; there is real evil and we need real saving. It’s easy to think, however, that incredible good is only done by those with incredible power. We justify our position or choices because we don’t view ourselves as having anything particularly special or purposeful about us. We keep doing what we’ve always done – or aim for the status quo – because we think it’s all we can do. We wind up guilty of doing nothing, on the wrong side of history because we thought our actions didn’t matter.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Or maybe you’ve been raised in the Church and have heard stories about saints or missionaries who sold all their possessions to live lives of radical service, and thought, “I will never be a missionary,” or “I’m obviously not Mother Theresa“. Maybe the people you have put on a pedestal of having purpose and value are your friendly neighbourhood clergy – pastors or priests – or youth workers or professional counselors and psychologists, you know, the people trained to love and care and make a difference in the world. The people called to do incredible work.

Maybe, without realizing it, you’ve internalized a narrative that suggests you don’t have some higher purpose and you aren’t that powerful. I challenge you on that, Christian. I do. You’re not called to sell all your possessions or become a missionary overseas? Great. But chances are, you are still going to have to give up doing what you want. His call, wherever you are, is nevertheless to still, “Come, follow me.”

Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.

– Matthew 16:24 (NLT)

It’s not as though our steps of righteous cross-carrying will somehow save the world or ourselves (remember, that was Jesus’ job, and it is finished). We carry our cross in order to follow a person; in order to be close to the one we’re following.

… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus … 

– Hebrews 12

Following Jesus is something we do most often without grand gestures (though there’s a time for those). One step at a time, day in, day out, often with great difficulty, we “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12). Our spiritual reality can only be lived out in physical action. We must take literal steps of service and self-sacrifice that looks like feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, inviting in the stranger (be that the refugee or the relative with dementia), clothing the naked, and being company for the isolated sick or imprisoned. It can be fairly radical stuff that I’ll be honest I haven’t enough experience doing, especially when practicing hospitality and serving the “least” members of society counters all that’s inside me that wants to be comfortable and safe, but Christ promises that when we do this…

we are brought closer to God himself (where I’m getting all the social justice stuff) and God has never been particularly safe.

Yet, our Father chose to use humans, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish his purposes on earth. You may not be a missionary or saint or superhero or paid staff of the church or a professional psychologist or personal support worker or politician or as rich as the next guy, but you have been created by a God who does not make mistakes and has called *you* to follow him. There’s some serious good work to be done and the status quo – an ordinary life – is not an option.

Go. Follow Him.