“A man who is asleep…hears the voice of someone who loves him trying to rouse him gently from his sleep, because it is time for him to awake…”
-David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God (pp. 11-12)
“The smile of the cherishing mother that evokes the smile of the infant is a microcosm of a cosmic truth: that God’s gracious initiative in the incarnation—“ he first loved us”— is the provoking smile of a Creator who meets us in the flesh, granting even the grace that allows us to love him in return.”
-James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love
In the movie ‘Man of Steel’, General Zod and his crew have found their way to earth because of a signal Kal-El (Superman) had sent out while turning on an ancient Kryptonian ship that had crashed on earth some thousands of years ago. They begin to “terraform” the earth, which means they are modifying the earth’s atmosphere to resemble Krypton’s atmosphere. They use what is called a “world engine” that works in tandem with Zod’s ship bouncing gravitational waves through the earth back and forth. Superman has to go to the Indian ocean to destroy the machine or the human race will cease to exist. Since this machine is turning the earth into Krypton, Superman will be seriously weakened, and could possibly be killed by it.
In what I would argue is the most beautiful and emotional sequence in any comic book movie, we find some members of the Daily Planet in the city as it is continuing to be destroyed by the terraforming of the ship. Jenny, a reporter for the Daily Planet, fleeing the destruction becomes trapped in a prison of cement. She realizes her predicament and becomes terrified of the circumstances. The crushing weight of the gravity machine is going to bring her and the two others to their end, and there is nothing that they can do about it. We cut to the indian ocean, where Superman has been thrown by the defense mechanism on the machine underneath the crushing gravity pulsating into the earth. As the music begins to swell upward, we see his hand come into frame in a fist, he begins to press back against the pulse. Back to the city, the men are trying their hardest to get Jenny out of her cement prison, the crushing weight of death approaches them without any hesitancy. The music continues to permeate the scene with hope, as Superman with all his determination presses upward into the ray and destroys the machine. You can watch the final two minutes of that sequence here.
The Beauty of the Incarnation
This scene strikes me in various ways. When we see Jenny trapped, I cannot think of anything other than our natural condition as human beings. We are trapped in our sinfulness, we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves. Even when we are aware of our sin and our despair, it does nothing to free us from our condition. It is solely rooted in the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit are we freed from this state of being. It is the unconditional love of the triune God which comes to set us free. It is not anything we have done or ever could do to earn or deserve it. He endures the violence of the cross to free us from our bondage. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
The aesthetic beauty of this scene is unrivaled for me. The lights of the pulse that washes over Superman, his hand clenching into a fist in his will to fight back, and Hans Zimmer’s score which penetrates the most hardened of hearts. What is more beautiful is how God actually became man. Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, the hypostatic union. This mystery is of the most terrifying and wonderful depth. Athanasius speaks of the Word and the filling of all dimensions;
“The Self-revealing of the Word is in every dimension – above, in creation; below, in the Incarnation; in the depth, in Hades; in the breadth, throughout the world. All things have been filled with the knowledge of God.” (On the Incarnation)
T.F. Torrance speaks of the incarnation in this way;
“…the incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator…what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved.” (The Mediation of Christ, p. 48-49)
The Electing God Who Endures
In this action towards us God reveals His love for us in no uncertain terms. The story witnessed in the Scriptures is one of humanity abandoning God and God coming down into the wilderness seeking and saving us. First Israel then the world. God is the electing God. Karl Barth speaks of election as the “sum of the Gospel”. (CD II.2.1) To quote Barth at some length;
“In the midst of time it happened that God became man for our good. While underlining the uniqueness of this event, we have to reflect that this was not an accident, not one historical event among others. But it is the event which God willed from eternity.” (Dogmatics in Outline)
John Webster makes this point clear;
“God elects to be this God, God in this man, God known in and as Jesus Christ.” (Webster, p. 91)
Jesus Christ is both the electing God and the elected man. Election ‘is grounded in the knowledge of Jesus Christ because He is both the electing God and elected man in One.’ (CD II.2.3) He fleshes this out even further in talking about the person of Christ:
“Thus in this oneness Jesus Christ is the Mediator, the Reconciler, between God and man. Thus He comes forward to MAN on behalf of GOD calling for and awakening faith, love and hope, and to GOD on behalf of MAN, representing man, making satisfaction and interceding. Thus He attests and guarantees to God’s free GRACE and at the same time attests and guarantees to God man’s free GRATITUDE.” (The Humanity of God)
In Jesus Christ God has said Yes to all of His promises, no matter how many. (2 Corinthians 1:19-20)
“In His free grace, God is for man in every respect; He surrounds man from all sides. He is man’s Lord who is before him, above him, after him, and thence also with him in history, the locus of man’s existence. Despite man’s insignificance, God is with him as his Creator who intended and made mankind to be very good. Despite man’s sin, God is with him, the One who was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world, drawing man unto Himself in merciful judgment. Man’s evil past is not merely crossed out because of its irrelevancy. Rather, it is in the good care of God. Despite man’s life in the flesh, corrupt and ephemeral, God is with him. The victor in Christ is here and now present through His Spirit, man’s strength, companion, and comfort. Despite man’s death God is with him, meeting him as redeemer and perfecter at the threshold of the future to show him the totality of existence in the true light in which the eyes of God beheld it from the beginning and will behold it evermore. In what He is for man and does for man, God ushers in the history leading to the ultimate salvation of man.” (Barth, The Humanity of God)
All of this we see God’s endurance for us. The history of salvation bears this out.
When we go back to view that scene in which Superman endures and overcomes the horrific weight of the world engine, let us view it as a pointer. Superman is not God, nor does he actually represent Christ no matter how much the movie attempted to portray him as such. But what we can look to is how much this reflects and points us towards God’s endurance for us. He took on our sin and our flesh to heal it. He unconditionally binds Himself to us at the incarnation, suffers on the cross and puts an end to death in His resurrection. He is with us in our most difficult times, and is healing and transforming the world that was headed for certain eternal death. He speaks ‘Yes’ to His creation through the Word, who is Jesus Christ. From eternity God has elected us in Christ to share and participate in His triune being and work. When we encounter such beauty as the incarnation, or even a scene in a comic book movie, God is gently waking us from our despairing slumber. He has been gracious towards us from eternity. It is in Jesus Christ we have assurance of His promises towards us.
“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:19-22, ESV)
Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2 & Dogmatics in Outline
T.F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ
John Webster, Karl Barth, Outstanding Christian Thinkers
Man of Steel