Jesus Was Not A “Man of Steel”

June 11, 2013 by

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No doubt as many Christians, and non-Christians for that matter, flood rank and file into movie theaters this week to view Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel that they will pick up on resonances from the story of Jesus as told in the canonical gospels. The “synopsis” from the official site about the movie could be equally at home with a movie about Jesus:
A young boy learns he has extraordinary powers and is not of this earth. As a young man, he journey’s to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become a symbol of hope for all mankind.
Could we not picture an adolescent Jesus wrestling with his divine mission as he comes to terms with his vocation to rescue mankind from annihilation? Perhaps, Jesus, the Clark Kentian figure of the Gospels, finally emerges at the Jordan where he at last determines to save the cosmos from chaotic destruction and so fulfill his mission for which he was sent by his divine Father. The parallels, then, are indeed striking: (1) sent to the planet by their father (2) possesses mighty powers beyond normal human capacity, and (3) becomes the savior of mankind.
In fact, most Christians seem to entertain a form of Supermanian Christology. Jesus, in other words, only appears human, a superhero with a Clark Kent type of disguise. But beneath this frail and uncomely human happens to be what amounts to a semi-divine being capable of “leaping tall buildings in a single bound.” Thus, when Jesus performs his mighty deeds, he is now acting in a Superman-type role where he finally reveals his true nature, no longer the skimpy Jew from Nazareth. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible defines docetism as:
A designation for various views regarding the humanity of Christ that began to manifest themselves in the late 1st century c.e. The term is related to Gk. dokeɩ́n, “to seem.” Docetic thought is a by-product of the Hellenistic environment of early Christianity that, philosophically, made a radical distinction between the material and the spiritual, and thus denied that the spiritual Christ actually assumed material human form. With the denial of the Incarnation, it became logically impossible to sustain that Christ experienced genuine suffering and death on the cross, a fact that made irrelevant any discussion of authentic resurrection.
You see, similarities notwithstanding, this is precisely where Jesus and Super Man diverge. Jesus never put on a Clark Kentian façade to disguise who and what he truly was. Jesus, though “sent from God,” was truly human; bullets, if the Romans had anything like them (they didn’t), would’ve not have ricocheted off Jesus’ perfectly sculpted chest. The Roman spear that naturally penetrated Jesus’ already lacerated side would’ve certainly broke had it been thrust into the Man of Steel. But Jesus’ frail body succumbs.
You see, the inner logic of the fictional Super Man series is: that if humanity is to be rescued then someone non-human must intervene in a non-human way. However, Gospel-logic states: that if humanity is to be rescued Someone non-human must intervene in a very-human way. What is needed, then, is a true Human Being, not a super Human Being. This is the divine-human paradox about Jesus: that he is God acting to save creation in a human-ly way. F.F. Bruce in his commentary on Hebrews adds:
But if [Jesus’] solidarity with [humanity] is to be real, he also must be a true human being, a genuine partaker of flesh and blood. Moreover, he must partake of flesh and blood “in like manner” with them—that is to say, by the gateway of birth. No docetic or Apollinarian Christ will satisfy their need of a Savior or God’s determination to supply that need. And if they, entering this earthly life by birth, leave it in due course by death, it was divinely fitting that he too should die. Indeed, this is stated here as the purpose of his incarnation—that he should die, and in the very act of dying draw the sting of death.[1]
Death. This is the way that Jesus rescues earth from the malevolent powers that threatened it with ultimate destruction. So, unlike Super Man, who destroys earth’s enemies by superhuman prowess and violence, Jesus dies under his enemies, rendering them ultimately powerless. Jesus the Christ is not a “Man of Steel,” on the contrary!—he is a “Man of Wood,” a man of the dreaded Roman cross.  This shows us that what we needed to save this earth was not an alien Übermensch, but a vulnerable Servant whose embarrassing and shameful death at the hands of his foes constitutes his ultimate victory over them.

[1] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Rev. ed.), in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 84-85.


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