Since its release on May 4th, The Avengers has shattered box office records. It grossed more than $200 million on opening weekend and has generated over $1 billion worldwide in less than three weeks. My wife and I are quite possibly the only two people alive who’ve yet to see it. The combination of a star-studded cast, over the top CGI, mass marketing, and the interwoven stories of recognizable characters has created an industry juggernaut. But it seems to me that the success of The Avengers is on account of something more than just star power, special effects, marketing strategy, or even good storytelling. Even without having seen the movie, I am certain that it strikes at the heart of the human soul in a primal way. Deep down, each and every one of us wants to be a superhero. To conquer evil, save the day, and have a slo-mo montage of our heroic exploits.
When I was a kid, like most little boys, I played make believe with my friends. We’d fly around, wielding superhuman strength, rescuing prisoners, protecting the vulnerable, and winning the girl. Day after day, our collective imagination opened the door to a world where time and space were not limitations but toys to be played with, manipulated for our own pleasure, words with which to write childishly grandiose stories of valor and victory. But eventually I grew old. I stopped believing in the stories of my childhood. I began finding myself a realist and a cynic on most days. The plausible and possible became my constant companions. If something was unbelievable and seemingly impossible, I enjoyed it as fantasy but nothing more. Then something interesting happened. About six months ago, I began a sort of reverse maturation. I started dreaming big dreams and wondering what could be instead of maintaining what already was. My heart grew bigger and the extra space longed to be filled with the stories of my childhood, wonderfully audacious and ridiculously ambitious.
Since the beginning of the year, my wife and I have been working on a church plant with a few friends. It has undoubtedly been my most challenging and rewarding ministry experience. We usually have our planning meetings at the home of some good friends. As we pray, plan, and dream, their children play in the backyard. One of their boys, a five year old, plays make believe like we used to. On most days that I’m at the house, he puts on two, sometimes three different superhero costumes. Lately he’s been preferential to Thor, complete with helmet and hammer. Sometimes it’s Spider-Man or Captain America. It really depends on the day. And as we grown ups dream about the frightening and exhilarating task of planting a new church in an alarmingly unchurched city, this child is a constant reminder that this is in us. This is in all of us. The desire to make a difference, to matter, to change what has been, and to make what could be a reality. The desire to live heroically is the heartbeat of the human story. As I watch him run free, playing as only children play, imagining himself slaying dragons and toppling giants, I begin to believe that his reality is a better one than my own. He believes that nothing is impossible and that magic is still in the air. He is confident and carefree, ambitious and assertive. He is all of these things because in his backyard, he knows that he’s the prince because his dad is king. And so as dad sits nearby, typing away on a laptop, scribbling notes in his journal, or brainstorming on a whiteboard, son conquers evil and crushes the bad guys. He does this with delight and laughter because he is doing what princes are supposed to do.
If God is for us, who can be against us? - Romans 8:31
God is for you. He is on your side. He is King and you are his sons and daughters, your rags replaced by the robes of royalty. This is better than any costume our imaginations could’ve conjured up because what we wear now is permanent and real. Our God is the great hero of the human story and as his children, we are meant to live heroically. This is why we love The Avengers. This is why we played make believe as children. This is why some people you know stopped living selfishly and began living selflessly. This is why some leave well paying jobs to start fledgling non-profits designed to fight injustice. This is why some give generously to feed the hungry half a world away. This is why some refuse to give up on their dying marriage and instead fight to bring it back to life. This is why some choose to unconditionally love the neglected and marginalized.
So whoever you are and whatever you do, remember that this is in you. You long to feel heroic because beneath the clutter of your insecurities, fears, and cynicism, there is a heroic version of you lying dormant, eager to change the world. Be that version of you. Give selflessly. Heal with your presence. Breathe life into the dead with your grace. Love relentlessly. Slay dragons and topple giants. Change the world. Make certain that the slo-mo montage at the end of your life is one worth watching.