Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (NIV)
As we all know, summers have become the time of the superhero. Now, I don’t know if you enjoy these movies about Spiderman and X-Men and Batman like I do, but I do know they have something to teach us in these hot summer months.
Most of us treat these movies as a place of escape. We escape the summer heat, the summer responsibilities with the children at home, the difficulties of our lives. For a couple hours, we are entertained by a fantasy about strong men and women who can conquer anything that is holding them back, who are strong enough to live by what is right at all times.
Now, in those superhero stories—in all great hero stories in fact—there is always a moment near the end of the journey when the hero draws back because the struggle seems too much. The hero throws away the mask and promises himself or herself never to pick it up again or the team threatens to disband. It’s all too much, even for these super-powered people.
We see this in summer blockbusters, and we see it all the way back to ancient hero stories. In fact, we see it even in the story of the greatest hero of them all, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in Gethsemane had a moment of drawing back, when He asked God to “take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42).
This moment is so common in stories and history precisely because it is so true. To reach greatness, we have to conquer many things, and among those is the desire to draw back just before we can grasp our glory.
In our own lives, we also experience these moments when we look for a quick exit just before reaching a moment of triumph. For many of us, it is not a mythological monster or an alien invasion that makes us want to turn back, nor is it something so potent and real as the cross. It is the truth that we want to run from.
To live as God wants us to live, we have to understand the truth and live by it. God wants us to have “truthful lips” (Proverbs 12:19) and to “speak the truth to each other” (Zechariah 8:16). Before we can conquer any great task, we have to move past the reticence to hide.
Of course, a pastor never gets tired of talking about truth. That’s the center of our trade. When my daughter Houston was a child, I used to marvel at the joy she seemed to carry within her. Her joys were true joys—intense joys that made her whole being light up. There was no discontent mixed in like we have when we’re grown. Likewise, when she was sad, it was the dull light of cloudy days. She simply wasn’t able to hide the truth of how she felt or what she thought. She was simply, completely honest.
There’s a reason our Lord compares truth with light. The obvious and well-explored reason is because we can see in light and truth lets us see. If we want to conquer our problems in life, we have to be able to see them first.
If you have children, you know what a child lying about taking a cookie from the cookie jar actually looks like. They can’t do it. They say all the lying words but everything about them betrays their lie. They can’t look you in your eye, they can’t keep still. They want to giggle at the joke of it all. All the skill we pick up over time isn’t there weighing them down. They are just naturally truthful beings.
That’s the kind of truth God wants in all of us. He wants that complete honesty that exists under all that heavy guilt that we’ve built up over the years while we created mountains of small and large falsehoods.
And yet, whenever we approach that level of truthfulness, we draw back. Like the heroes before their big battle, we suddenly stop being sure of ourselves. We are afraid. We’ve learned to fear all those heavy consequences of honesty in our long years. What will people say? What will people think? Will I be judged? What will it cost me to say the truth?
We’ve got to learn the lesson of these superhero movies and learn to accept the urge to draw back but to march on anyway. For a superhero, it is into a grand, cosmic battle; for Christ, it was towards the cross. And for us, it is a motion towards complete openness and truth.
Because when we admit our hands were in the cookie jar, when we share our true selves, we won’t find the harsh punishments and judgments we feared; we’ll find God Himself.