What Batman and the Church Have in Common

–Daniel S. Ferguson

When I was a kid, there were few shows I enjoyed more than Batman: The Animated Series. Looking back on it, it was both sillier and darker than I remember it being. It was somehow both utterly ridiculous and terrifyingly grim at the same time. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much. That and Mark Hamill’s extraordinary Joker laugh.

Recently, it came back to Netflix or wherever, and I was able to re-watch a few of the episodes. What struck me most is how supernatural the villains were. Poison Ivy could control plants with her mind, for example. Scarecrow was actually made of straw. Cool stuff.

This stands in stark contrast to the newest Batman movies, where neither the villains nor the hero have any superpowers whatsoever. There’s a natural explanation for everything they can do. Poison Ivy is a fledgling master of poisons and trickery in Gotham, and Scarecrow is a psychological pharmacist in Batman Begins.

Indeed, even with all the superhero movies out there right now, there’s a strong trend toward providing natural explanations for supernatural events and powers. It’s no longer about just imagining a superpower; it’s about explaining it until it’s no longer supernatural. As we’ve grown more scientific, we’ve felt the need to wash away the naiveté of our youth by imposing reason onto what was designed to be fundamentally unreasonable.

As I’ve watched the church slowly change over the last twenty years, I’ve noticed the same trend. God’s universe-creating power is often merely a lesson to be applied to our mundane lives. Miracles have become metaphors. The supernatural has become the scientific. We seem to have a driving need to explain the unexplainable.

Now, it’s not all bad for Christians to be rational. This can be a good thing. I’m glad that we’ve accepted (or begun to accept) that some things in the Bible are metaphors and myths (in the literary sense) like the creation story and the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel and Jonah being swallowed by a fish. It’s good that we’re looking at those rationally.

But what of the feeding of the 5000? Shall we rationalize that one, too? And even if I accept that the creation of the universe didn’t happen in six days but over 13.8 billion years and is in fact still happening (and I do), should that make it any less awe-inspiring? What of the walking on water and the walls crumbling down at Jericho? What of the resurrection?

I have heard far too many sermons from far too many preachers that discuss those events and others either as if they did not happen or, worse, as if they were merely a lesson and not an earth-shattering reminder of the awesomeness of God.

Is this regressive of me to think? Maybe. After all, the same rationale was used by people who clung to anti-evolutionism. But still, I long to witness the majesty of God. Perhaps I never will. So few people have. The Bible is, after all, a collection of exceptions and not norms. I doubt the exceptional will happen in front of me.

But that makes it no less exceptional. And it needs to be treated that way. I wonder how many people have left the church because it became so rationalized that the rational explanations of agnosticism, atheism, and none-ism simply were more palatable because they were more intellectually consistent.

What would happen if instead we started talking about the awesomeness of God without explaining it? What if we started exploring his supernatural power without feeling the need to explain it or justify it? What if we just let it be and by doing so caused people to consider the full majesty of God?

I wonder what would happen then.

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