Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Spider-Sense is Tingling

Spider-Man © 2002 Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Columbia Pictures Industries Inc, and Marvel Characters, Inc.
My spider-sense tells me there's a new Spider-Man movie coming out soon (OK, not really - I saw a trailer for it). The Amazing Spider-Man is set to hit US theaters on July 3, and will star Andrew Garfield in the title role instead of Tobey Maguire. After seeing the extended trailer, I have high hopes, but it'll have to be really good to replace 2002's Spider-Man as my favorite Spidey adventure. While we wait for the new movie to come out, let me share some thoughts about the original.

A couple months ago, I shared about how I see Superman as a sort of "type" for Christ. Well just as Superman can be seen as a representative for Jesus, I think Spider-Man makes a good representative for Christians. The 2002 movie also stands as an explanation of the two ways people can be transformed.

On the one hand, there's Peter Parker. In the beginning, there's really nothing remarkable about him. He's just a regular person dealing with the struggles of regular life before he is bitten by a special spider. Notice that in the film, Peter does nothing to turn himself into Spider-Man. He is chosen and bitten by the spider, and merely has a reaction. In the same way, becoming a Christian is not so much about what we do as it is about what God does. God sent Jesus to die for our sins before we knew we needed a Savior. God reached out to us and declared his love for us before we knew or loved him. This is God's prevenient grace toward us. We do nothing to save ourselves. We merely respond to what God has done, and it transforms us for the better.

"But God proves his love for us in that 
while we still were sinners Christ died for us." 
- Romans 5:8

Once bitten, Peter Parker has an immediate reaction. Over night, his DNA is restructured, and he becomes a new person. You might even say he is "born again" (see John 3:3-8). So likewise, there should be a marked difference between the way we were without Christ and the way we are once we've encountered him (2 Corinthians 5:17). Peter Parker looked the same but took on characteristics of a spider after he was bitten. Similarly, when our lives are touched by Christ, though we may look the same on the outside, we are expected to become more and more like our Lord (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Peter's altered DNA gives him powers he never had before, including these shared by Christians:
  • Peter has improved vision so he can better see himself, others, and obstacles thrown at him. Similarly, Christ came to give sight to the blind (Luke 4:16-21; John 9:39). He gives us spiritual vision to see things like our own sinfulness and need for a Savior, the needs of others, and the path to salvation and better life. Of his amazing grace, we sing, "I was blind, but now I see!"
  • Peter also has increased strength and resilience. It takes a strong person to bounce back from the Goblin's attacks or to hold up both Mary Jane and a tram car full of children. So the Lord, who never grows weak or tired, can give us the strength to bounce back from and overcome anything the devil throws at us (Isaiah 40:28-31; Philippians 4:13).
  • Peter's "Spider-Sense" is described in the film as a sort of pre-cognition. When he focuses, he has the ability to sense danger in time to react. Like him, we must grow in the ability to discern good from bad (Hebrews 5:14) so we can avoid Satan's punches. If we need a boost in our spiritual "Spider-Sense", we can ask the Lord and trust him to help us (James 1:5-8).
  • Peter's best-known power, of course, is the webbing he shoots from his wrists. This webbing can be used to hold himself and others up, to help him get around, to protect him, or even as a weapon against the enemy. For believers, our webbing is the ability to know and use the Bible. The Old Testament Israelites were instructed to bind Scriptures on their wrists, similar to how Peter Parker strapped web-guns on his wrists in the comics (Deuteronomy 11:18). The idea was that they would have a constant reminder of the Word of God. Still today, we must keep the Word ever before us, because it sustains us (Matthew 4:4), it helps us navigate life (2 Timothy 3:16), and it can be used as both a shield and a sword when Satan attacks (Proverbs 30:5; Ephesians 6:16-17). You might say our webbing helps us to get a better grip on life!

Parker getting the hang of powers
Peter Parker trying to get the hang of his new-found powers

But just because he was bitten by the spider, that didn't make Peter an automatic expert on his powers. His webbing in particular took some time to master. So for us, we find that becoming a Christian doesn't make us automatic experts at living the Christian life. It takes practice and study - especially with our webbing. But with diligence, we can learn to use our powers to do everything they were meant for.

We cannot become content to let our powers go unused, but we must nurture them; and we cannot use our powers for selfish gain, but must use them for good. We all know Uncle Ben's famous words to Peter, "With great power comes great responsibility." Jesus would wholeheartedly agree. As he said:

"From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; 
and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded."
- Luke 12:48b

Our responsibility is both to love God and to love one another (1 John 4:20). When Peter allowed selfish desires to get in the way, Uncle Ben died and Peter and Aunt May suffered. If we keep the things of God to ourselves, or if we try to abuse them for personal gain, we can end up hurting ourselves and those dear to us, even endangering their souls. But when Peter put his powers to use not just for himself but sacrificially for others, he was able to help people in trouble, and he became an inspiration to many.

I say "many" because not everyone loved him. Some hated him. Some labelled him as a criminal and a menace because he was different and they didn't understand him. Sadly, we must expect that. We won't always be accepted by this world because, as noted last month, we don't belong here. Unfortunately, like Peter Parker, we may even find that we sometimes make enemies of some who were previously our friends (like Norman and Harry Oswald) because we must refuse to go along with their sinful ways.

Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin
Willem Dafoe as the devilish Green Goblin
"You and I are not so different."
- Green Goblin to Spider-Man

If Peter represents one who is transformed into the image of Christ, Norman and Harry represent the other type of transformation: conformation to the ways of the world. Norman is the prime example in this movie, but Harry's transformation is hinted to near the end and actualized later in the series. Like Peter, Norman began as a "normal" person - albeit wealthier and better educated. Like Peter, also, his transformation was partly due to circumstances beyond his control. He was afraid of losing a government contract and felt hated and betrayed by the General and his company's board members. His story illustrates how tough situations can push people to the edge if no one is there to help them and show them the way. This should be a reminder to us of God's calling to reach out to those who feel marginalized. But unfortunately, not everyone will let you help them.

The Green Goblin persona represents Norman's inner demons, which left to themselves only grow in power. First, Norman seems to be blinded by his ego. Then we see how one sin leads to greater and greater sin. Anger and distrust fueled by the actions of others drive him out of his mind until he becomes something unrecognizable. He seems even to be demon-possessed at times. He begins hurting (and killing) his co-workers and those he was close to, he endangers total strangers, and his uncontrollable rage eventually causes his own death. I'm reminded that although sin may seem harmless at first - while it may pretend to be your friend for a time - in the end it brings only destruction.

"For the wages of sin is death, 
but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
- Romans 6:23

Do we really want to live a destructive life? Do we really want to be made into the image of this sad, angry, sinful world? How much better to be transformed into the image of the powerful, victorious, loving Christ!
"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect."
- Romans 12:1-2
 Every day, each of us is becoming something. What we become depends on how we respond to our circumstances, how we treat one another, our good and bad decisions, and most importantly, how we respond to the love, guidance, and grace God has extended to us in Christ Jesus. Will we allow ourselves to be transformed for the better or for worse?

As the Green Goblin rightly understood, "We are who we choose to be."

So the question is: Who do you choose to be?

I hope you choose to become the hero of the faith God wants to empower you to be!

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