My two year old daughter is infatuated with Buzz Lightyear. As we walked out of the Disney store with our new Buzz Lightyear action figure, I noticed that all the other little girls were looking at princesses. I guess my daughter is special.
She loves Buzz Lightyear. Anytime we ask her what she wants to do she responds, “Watch Buzz Lightyear?” Every day she flies him around the house and every night she puts him to bed on the guest bathroom toilet (that’s his spot—“Buzz Lightyear go nigh nigh on the potty.”) It’s not unusual to hear her sweet little voice declaring, “Buzz Lightyear to the rescue!” and “To infinity, and beyond!”

Everything about it was cute until she started comparing Buzz Lightyear to daddy: “Buzz Lightyear have wings. Daddy have wings?” With inadequacy in my voice I sadly reply, “No sweetheart. Daddy no have wings.” He’s got me there.

Old School Batman

So what has this got to do with anything other than my now-fragile self-esteem? Well, it got me thinking about superheroes. Why is it that movies about Batman, X-Men, Spiderman, Superman, Wonderwoman, Ironman, Hancock, the Hulk, Catwoman, or a host of other superheroes will always attract an audience? Why is it that Marvel has made so much money?

Mankind’s obsession with superheroes is nothing new. The Greeks had gods who controlled the fates of men, but they also had demigods like Hercules who were part man, part god. The demigods could fight for the cause of humanity with superhuman ability. The Germanic tribes had Thor and his powerful hammer, and the Old English had Beowulf, who used his superhuman power to save the human race from Grendel and Grendel’s mother. There are many such examples in classical and medieval mythology.

I find it fascinating that man feels an attachment to the concept of a hero that belongs to the human race yet is also somehow more than human—a hero that will do on behalf of mankind that which man is too weak to do for himself. With Hercules, Thor, and Superman this involves protecting mankind from its enemies. With Batman it involves bringing justice into the midst of corruption.

In case I’m being too subtle, I’m suggesting that mankind conceives of these superheroes because we all know deep down that a Man who was indeed human but who somehow was also more than human has accomplished on behalf of mankind that which man could not do for himself. Hebrews 2 describes Jesus in exactly this role. The Bible is clear that Jesus does indeed protect the rest of us from our greatest Enemy. And when He returns, He will bring justice to this dark and corrupt world.

Disney/Pixar's Buzz Lighyear in "Spanish Mode" (from Toy Story 3)

Everything we project onto our superheroes is nothing more than a hint of what is realized in Christ. Of course, Jesus is more than a superhero. And it would probably be wrong to say that Batman is the shadow and Jesus is the substance. But still, a human fascination as enduring as the concept of the superhero probably comes from a common source. We have a sense of what we need: someone greater than us who can help us do what we know we ought to do. The secular world creates this hero in its image, but the biblical Hero actually creates (and recreates) us in His—we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26), and ultimately we will be remade into Christ’s image (Rom. 8:29).

So what does this all mean? Well, to tie it back into my daughter’s world, the True Buzz Lightyear has indeed come to the rescue, and one day He will return to bring us to infinity and beyond. (And with that, I win the Dundee for cheesiest closing line ever!)

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of “Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music” and the co-author with Francis Chan of “Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples.” Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Correction: the Germanic tribes had Beowulf who used his superhuman power to save the human race from Grendal and Grendal’s mother. Luckily that doesn’t change the point of your article in the slightest, and you had an excellent article. Also that is an awesome closing line.