"The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." – Genesis 17:8
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul boldly proclaims, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). As a new Christian, I began seeing things in a new light. And not just certain, spiritual things but everything. I came to the realization that just as Solomon drew spiritual lessons from ants, locusts, and lions, there are spiritual lessons to be drawn from sources all around us. When we look at our world and the things therein in the light of Christ, spiritual lessons will begin to jump out. Sometimes, we’ll be reminded of what we, as Christians, ought to be doing. At other times, they warn us about the dangers of traveling down the broad way which leads to destruction. But either way, there are spiritual lessons to be learned by simply observing our surroundings. Today, I’d like to take a few minutes to note some spiritual lessons that I’ve learned or that have been reinforced through Spider-Man.
As a kid, every Saturday morning began with an episode of the Amazing Spider-Man. Unlike so many other superheroes, Spider-man was not a hero by virtue of his birth, wealth, or alien-origin. No, Peter Parker was an average kid who was blessed by providence. He wasn’t unlike me. In fact, as I watched Peter Parker, I saw myself in him so much. We had a similar disposition; both of us were optimists even in the face of impossible odds. Even in the middle of a dangerous, life-threatening struggle, you could always count on him to get in a funny quip about his enemy or a self-deprecating joke. And unlike the fellow in the bat costume, he never took himself too seriously. So, here are two spiritual lessons that I’ve learned from the Amazing Spider-Man.
Love your Neighbor as Yourself
Jesus once told his disciples, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” What an extreme call to self-denial! God has never been satisfied with half-hearted believers. In the Old Testament, he called out to Abraham, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:2). This was a call to total surrender and complete obedience. This call continued throughout the Old and New Testaments. God has always demanded to be first in our lives, this is why the first commandment is “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house ofslavery. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
When God has His rightful position in our lives, His love will not only well up in us towards Him, it will flow out to others. As a result, we will “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” We will fulfill both, the greatest and second greatest commandment. Not only will we love God with all of our being, we will also love our neighbors as ourselves. Throughout scripture, there is a clear call to love others through self-sacrificing service.
One of the things that I always admired about Peter Parker was his determination to do what was right. After his Uncle Ben died as a result of his inaction, Peter decided that he’d never again pass on a chance to serve, even if it meant sacrifice on his part. As you read the early issues of the Amazing Spider-Man comic, you find that again and again, Peter is willing to place the good of others above himself. He’s unable to keep a job, unable to keep a girlfriend, and just generally unable to have a social life because of his commitment to do what’s right. To put others above himself. And so, Peter’s personal desires and enjoyments often suffer. Surely, this is the sort of life that Christ has called us to! Just as Abraham was willing to place his son whom he loved on the altar, and as Peter Parker was willing to forgo his own pleasure for the good of others, God calls us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). As Christians, we have received a call to surrender and submission to the will of God. We’ve been called to live sacrificially for God and others. How often, rather than forgo, do we fight for what we want? We wreck the relationships we care about most by demanding everyone’s adherence to our will. Instead, Christ calls us to live for the good and benefit of others. Unfortunately, there are many people who claim the name of Christ and yet live less sacrificially than Peter Parker.
Amazing Grace that Saves the Wretched
Earlier this year, the comics world was sent into a frenzy when Peter Parker was murdered by one of his most hateful and vicious enemies, Otto Octavius. But Doctor Octopus, as he is better known, didn’t just kill Spider-Man, he switched bodies with Peter and he, himself, became Spider-Man. Peter Parker died so that Doctor Octopus might live. Now, I highly doubt that Peter will remain dead because comic characters have a penchant for resurrecting. However, the parallels to the story of Jesus are undeniable. You have a horrible sinner in Doctor Octopus; a man so filled with darkness that he once tried to kill nearly everyone on the planet. There is the murder of Peter Parker, a man who has done nothing deserving of the fate he receives. Then, once they’ve switched bodies, Peter’s spirit, still inhabits the same body that Octavius receives. This leads to Doctor Octopus becoming the hero that he once despised. In the same way, sinful man was so full of darkness that we brutalized and murdered the very Son of God! In his Pentecostal sermon, Peter said it this way, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” As a result, Christ sends His Spirit to inhabit us, give us the mind of Christ, and cause us to walk in His ways. We become the ‘hero’ that we once despised! Even the most wretched of sinners can be redeemed!
Many Spider-Man fans became irate when they heard the plan to kill off Peter Parker and replace him with his biggest enemy. The writer received death threats for his ‘murder’ of the beloved character. Some fans were upset at the very thought of this disgusting, murderous man becoming a hero. But that’s not just the story of Peter Parker and Doctor Octopus; it’s the story of us as described by Paul, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It also echoes the thought of John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, when he wrote, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.” Even the most wretched of sinners is not beyond the grasp of God.