Superpowers are a very common theme these days in our storytelling. It probably says something about human nature that we are so fascinated with this subject. I’ve noticed a particular common thread concerning superpowers that I’d like to examine in this post. In some shows, there is always one person who has such spectacular powers that they border on being omnipotent. Being so powerful, others have to find a way to try to reign them, control them, or somehow stop them from being a tremendous danger to everyone else. Of course this generally doesn’t work.
The Umbrella Academy
I’ve specifically been watching the show “The Umbrella Academy” on Netflix. If you haven’t watched it, you should! It’s wonderful. However, I’m about to give away some spoilers, so if you intend to watch it you should wait to read the rest of this. If you’ve seen it or you won’t watch it or you don’t care about the spoilers, no problem – read on!
OK, the setup for the show is that on a particular day, 43 women wake up as normal, meaning that they’re not pregnant. But during the course of that day, at different places around the globe, they become pregnant that day without having sexual relations, and give birth on the same day. Pretty crazy, right? And seven of these children are adopted by an eccentric rich man and raised to be a team of heroes. As they grow, they come to have various kinds of superpowers. It turns out this man is a terrible father figure, and the children grow up fairly well hating him.
One of children named Vanya seems to have no powers at all, and lives a kind of dejected lonely life feeling powerless and useless. Vanya is a gentle, melancholy, kind, soft-spoken girl who plays the violin. She does not come across as vindictive or violent in the least.
Well, fast forward into the show, and it turns out that Vanya DOES have powers. Vast powers. Incredibly dangerous powers. She’s practically omnipotent. So all of her life she has been lied to. She’s been made to take drugs to suppress her abilities and she’s also been made to forget her powers through the use of another of the children’s powers. And so she has been forced to live a miserable and awful and stunted life, and at a certain point she ends up having all of this revealed.
Omnipotence and Justice
This is where the theological insight comes in for me. When her powers return, she has no idea what they are or what the extent of them is. And her powers are frightening. So if she gets a little angry, a simple swipe of the hand and you are flying through the air, or sliced to bits, or facing some other grisly death. And in each case, her anger is completely justified. She is lashing out at true injustices that have really harmed her. It is right that she should be upset, and there is a strange part of us watching this that is rooting for her to use her powers and lash out at people and give them what they deserve.
That’s the rub. Here is God. He is truly omnipotent in ways that we could never conceive. He can say a word, and universes of worlds come to be. We see the injustice in the world and we cry out to God to do something. We want to think that the main characteristic which God must have is Justice. We want a God who is just and righteous. We want Vanya. But we are an entire race of Christ-killers. A just God is going to be a world-destroyer, a flooder and a killer. It would not be because He is mean and vindictive and evil, quite the opposite. If God is only just, we are screwed. I am screwed.
If you tie omnipotence and justice together, it is a disaster for us. We are not standing on the right side of justice. Instead of crying out for justice, we should be crying out for mercy. But we are too stupid to realize this. Fortunately, God is way ahead of us and knows what we need when we ourselves do not.
26 for the demonstration, [I say,] of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:26 NASB)
A Third Way
This is the brilliance and the shocking nature of the gospel. We are not stuck between choosing kindness and choosing justice. God has created a third way, where He is just AND the justifier. God has forged a way to love the evil without discarding justice, and this is amazing! I think it is His greatest miracle. The main characteristic of God is not that He is just, although He is that. He is loving and kind. And so He has forged a third way through the blood of His only begotten Son, His beloved Son in whom He is well-pleased, to show kindness to sinners who only deserve eternal torment in hell. God is not Vonya. His power does not define Him. It is His love which defines Him. Thank God for His infinite kindness and love for us, and the costly redemption we have in Christ!