“With great power comes great responsibility.”
We all crave heroes. The solitary figure who, through determination and self-sacrifice, defeats our enemies and saves us from whatever bad situation we are in. The hockey player who carries his team to the Stanley Cup. The politician who pulls his country out of an economic slump into a period of prosperity. The firefighter who returns to a burning building to carry a trapped child to safety. Something deep inside of each of us longs for this heroic figure.
I want to spend the next two weeks talking about the heroes I grew up with: the comic book superheroes of Marvel and DC. Each has themes and stories that point us toward a higher calling that transcends the individual characters. I will explore the ideologies and psychologies of Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and the X-men to see what we can learn about God through the colourful pages of comics.
Today, I want to talk about Spiderman. He has been my favourite superhero since childhood, and I think he teaches a few incredible lessons that everyone needs to learn if they are going to be fulfilled spiritually. We may not all have the ability to sling webs and fight crime, but his superpowers can be a metaphor for the natural talents we all have.
I think many young people feel like Peter Parker at some point. I know I have felt like Spiderman’s alter-ego many times: awkward, socially inept, and eager to win the heart of his lady-love (Mary-Jane or Gwen, depending on who is telling the story). It can often feel like we are powerless to make our situation better when confronted by bullies, deadlines, and cranky bosses. The desire for the power to change our circumstances can drive us to do silly things (like hang around radioactive spiders), or it can make us take an inventory of our skills and talents and seek a way through our adversities.
The overused tagline for Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility,” can be applied to all aspects of our lives. We don’t have the ability to stick to walls, but we have talents that were given to us by God to do good in the world. Artists can choose to explore the depths of their spirituality and help others connect to God, or they can conform to the world’s pressure to sell the shallow narcissism of materialistic consumerism. Someone gifted with a mind for business can exploit those around them to build an empire, or can realize that their resources can be used to better the lives of their employees and those in the local community. Once we realize what our gifting is, we must make the same choice that Spiderman made: serve ourselves, or serve others.
Although a lot lighter in tone than Batman, Spiderman is a similarly tragic hero. The loss of Uncle Ben is the turning point for Peter, opening his eyes to the tragedy surrounding him. I think we all need to have a similar moment in our own lives. Seeing the suffering of others allows us to see why we are needed. The world is fallen, and evil surrounds us. Are we going to join the side of darkness, fight against it, or sit idly by, claiming we need to look out for ourselves while the innocent are exploited and abused?
This choice is never going to be easy. The fallen world does not want heroes to fight against the injustice we see daily. Standing up to bullies can get you a punch in the mouth. Whistle-blowing at work can lose you a career. Fighting crime on the streets can get you killed. There is a reason that Spiderman wears a mask: he is afraid of the backlash by those he opposes. Evil, when cornered, will do anything to protect its interests, including attacking those we love to stop us. This is often the hardest part of standing up: finding the courage to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences.
Peter Parker shows us that even a high school kid, when he accepts his abilities and the responsibilities that come with them, can make a difference in the world. How much more can we, if we collectively spend time to realize our gifts and use them for good, make headway for good. If we stand against injustice, without regard for the cost, there is nothing that can stop us. Not even costumed villains and crime bosses.
For you, what are your gifts? What can you do for those around you that no one else can? If you start with small things, perhaps they will grow to become larger acts as you refine your talents and calling. Who knows, maybe you will become someone’s hero for a day.