Having watched The New Adventures of Superman when I was younger than I have a lot of nostalgia tied up with the character. Some people find him boring but, you know, he flies and can punch through concrete and lasers come out his eyes, I still think that's pretty cool. And it came as no surprise to me when a link appeared on my Facebook feed to an article on the parallels between Superman and the Gospel. The last movie, Superman Returns, went the whole hog and played up the parallels big time by portraying Superman as a Messianic type figure including one scene where he floated above the city, arms spread out in crucifixion pose listening to the cries or “prayers” of the people,
Even in the latest film, then there was a lot of talk about “believing” in Superman with Russell Crowe even saying that he would be like a god to the people of earth. But despite drawing heavily on religious, specifically Christian, imagery and thought then both films, indeed, any positive comparison between Superman and Jesus misses the point of who Jesus is. Of course, the big difference is that Superman is fiction and Jesus is both historical reality (when he walked this earth) and eternal reality (glorified in Heaven). But laying that aside there is still much to discuss.
Let's start at the beginning: Russell Crowe sends his only son to earth to be a symbol of hope. Well, that's all well and good but it has very little in common with the gospel story. In the Bible God the Father, sends the second person in the Godhead, Jesus Christ, to take on human flesh by being born of a virgin. And while Jesus is most definitely a symbol of hope he is also so much more. He is not just an ideal to strive behind, though he is that, Jesus came to fulfill a greater purpose.
The main reason that comparing fiction to the gospel never works is the entire gospel hinges on the uniqueness, necessity and perfection of Jesus Christ the God-man. Comparisons then to anything else are always going to fall short. I once listened to a talk on why Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was very gospel like. It was complete rubbish. There is a great deal of difference between the HP message of love conquering all and the gospel message of Christ conquering all. The former is palatable to the sinful mind; the latter is not. We cannot tell the gospel story using anything other than God's word. A gospel without Christ is no gospel at all.
This leads on to a second difference. Superman is super human whereas Jesus is fully human. Yes, Jesus performed many miracles but that doesn't detract from the completeness of his humanity. In Hebrews it is written that he was tempted in every way like we were, we read of Jesus being hungry, tired, surprised and distressed. He was a man of sorrows, afflicted by grief. I think this is an important point for Christians to recognise. It is precisely Jesus' full humanity that makes him so perfectly suited to being our Mediator. We must not lose sight of the fact that while he was still fully God he was also fully man. He knows in every way what it is like to be human. So he is not distant from us nor unaware of our struggles.
When he makes an excuse for his disciplines, as they sleep when he asked them to pray for him, Jesus says: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26v41) He could say this because he had experienced the weakness of sinful flesh, though he committed no sin himself. As it says in Romans: “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” (8v3).
When going through tough temptations and difficulties then it is easy to think that God either doesn't care or cannot sympathise with us. But these are lies from Satan for Jesus was fully human and knows intimately what that means. He was not superhuman, immune to pain or temptation, but rather fully human, sharing in the weakness of our flesh. Consider to the humility of Christ as he becomes man, the Lord God of all Creation partaking in humanity!
We see another great difference in their mission on Earth. Superman saves people from physical violence or disasters. He defeats evil by punching it. His realm of “salvation” is purely the physical or sometimes the mental realm. But Jesus Christ did so much more, he did what was necessary to save humanity not from physical disaster but from spiritual disaster. He saves us not just from ourselves (a feat alone that Superman could never do) but from the wrath of God against us.
No matter how many times Superman defeats the bad guy then evil manifests itself again. He can't save humanity from the root of corruption within. He can't even save himself from said root. He may be the good guy but he does not possess moral perfection. Jesus, on the other hand, is morally perfect. He alone lived a completely righteous life before God and man. And Jesus saves us from the root of corruption within. He transforms sinners into godly people. In Jesus we find a Saviour of far greater worth than Superman, a Saviour who can actually save us from what we most need saving from: the wrath of God against our sinfulness. Jesus defeated sin, death and evil by dying on the cross. He died as a sacrifice, in our place, the sinless taking on our sin. The noblest deed of Superman cannot even compare.
Comparisons between Superman and the Gospel downplay the fact that our salvation rests upon Christ alone. It does not rest on love or forgiveness or hope, though all these things Christ demonstrates to us, rather it rests only on Jesus Christ, his person and works.
Superman is there to deal with our fears of our own smallness and insignificance in a big bad world. But he is a false comfort, for he cannot defeat death, or the evil within, of satisfy the wrath of God or demonstrate the love of God or match the sovereignty of God. He is naught but a muddy canvas upon which we project our own refusal to trust God.
He is a god for the secular age which we live in. He deals with some of the more obvious symptoms of this fallen world of ours: crime, natural disasters and the like. He is there to solve the problems of the natural realm but even here he still cannot save humanity from death. He doesn't challenge us on the internal problem within our own hearts: the root of rebellion against God that mars everything. Superman is made in the image of man and ignores the fact that our fundamental problem is spiritual in nature rather than anything else.