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Spider-Man & the New Humanity
by Andrew Witmer
Andrew Witmer, M.A., is an ABD PhD candidate (American History), studying and teaching at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville VA. He is also proprietor of Up Close Audio. Since 2003 he has been an AIIA Resource Associate for matters relating to history and culture. The following piece is original.
A friend once suggested to me that the Spider-Man movies have achieved such enormous popularity because they play to our natural longings for transformation. I think he’s right. We’re fascinated by the transformation of mild-mannered Peter Parker into high-flying Spider-Man because we, too, long to be more than we are. We, too, long for transformation – of our bodies and our souls. Why? Because we were made to be more than we are. If my friend was right, the popularity of super-hero films may actually tell us a lot about ourselves.
Actually, our hunger for transformation and our fascination with figures who seem to embody it show up everywhere. The super-competency of characters like Jason Bourne and James Bond and Zorro and Sherlock Holmes intrigue us because they give us a glimpse of the strength and grace and brilliance for which we were built but which we so rarely achieve.
To come at the same phenomenon from another angle, the fright and repulsion we feel for dramatic physical deformities also reveal our deep longing for wholeness. Consider the terrible disfigurement of the Ukrainian politician, Victor Yushchenko.
For most of his life, Yushchenko was known for his good looks. But in 2004 he contracted a mysterious illness later diagnosed as dioxin poisoning. The startling result was the ruin of his handsome face. Almost overnight, it became bloated, pockmarked, and hideously ugly.
Why did many of us grieve over the dramatic before-and-after pictures of Victor Yushchenko (inset)? Partly, I think, because when we looked at earlier pictures we saw something of the glory and dignity of the human person – the grace and goodness of being created in God’s image. And when we saw his disfigured face, we saw an accelerated case of the corruption that marks us all. Yushchenko’s rapid fall from beauty to abomination, from the glorious to the beastlike, is more obvious than ours, but ours is no less real. At the end of the day, it is also no less grotesque, for our fall, most of us sense, has scarred not only our bodies but also our souls.
And so we find ourselves bearing the marks of corruption while longing for glory. How do we account for this? Among all the religions of the world, the Christian story offers the fullest and most satisfying explanation of our longings and our shortcomings. It also offers the most glorious hope for our transformation.
The first chapters of the book of Genesis teach that we were made in God’s image-created to worship him while serving as rulers over all creation on his behalf. We were created with unspeakable glory and dignity. But with our fall into sin, human beings and creation itself shriveled into shadows of what we once had been.
The great hope unfolded in Scripture is that Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, has come to remake the entire world and restore the image of God in those who belong to him. Amazingly, Jesus does even more than forgive sins; he is creating a new humanity, of which he himself is the first member. He is our hope and our promise. As the Heidelberg Catechism says, “we have our flesh in heaven as a sure pledge that he, as the head, will also take up to himself, us, his members.”
We are living in the new world that Jesus is making. When his work is finished, the Bible tells us, his people and the natural world will finally be everything we were created to be (Romans 8:18-23). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21). Our minds, hearts, and bodies will be redeemed and glorified.
There are many mysteries about the world to come, but Scripture indicates that it will complete and fulfill the good things of this world. To adapt a line from C.S. Lewis, the glorified person will be “a thousand times more her very self than she had been before.” Ruling with Jesus Christ, we will finally be fully human, not just as individuals but as members of a perfect and eternal community. We will finally be transformed.
Next time you see a super-hero movie, remember that Jesus is the full embodiment of all your longings for transformation, and that he offers the trustworthy promise of -transformation of new humanity- to all who place their confidence in him.