Comic Books, Human Books, and Holy Books

This week’s article is by contributor Tim Etherington of By Farther Steps.

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I’m going to use a comic book reference to make a point. If you’re not a comic book kind of person, just stick with me for a moment, I think it will be worth it.

Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and director of a handful of Avengers movies, though my favorite of his creations is Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog) thinks he knows why DC Comics films tank but Marvel’s do pretty well these days: “Because, with that one big exception (Batman), DC’s heroes are from a different era. They’re from the era when they were creating gods.” Whedon explains to Maxim that DC’s characters, like Wonder Woman, Superman and Green Lantern, were “all very much removed from humanity.”

From Whedon’s perspective, the stories that succeed these days are those that are more human than superhuman. We don’t want to hear about people who are not like us; people who don’t have problems. We don’t want Greek gods anymore, we’re more interested in special humans. We prefer Midas over Hercules, if you will.

This speaks to our connection to the divine as well.

Speech Bubbles

The Christian Bible is both a thoroughly divine and thoroughly human document.

When Mohammad received the Koran, an angel came and forced it upon him. Mohammad dictated the Koran directly, he said, from Allah; He would sit in a cave and the angel would come upon him and he’d start talking. His friends with him would write down what he said on whatever they had at hand; skins, clothing, bone fragments, whatever. They couldn’t plan for it; when Allah’s word came, it came! And then later, these writings were gathered together and put on paper.

The Koran was delivered, it seems, from on high; without considering its audience, it was simply dropped in their laps. By contrast, the Christian Bible is both a thoroughly divine and thoroughly human document.

Canon vs. Headcanon

Here’s how Peter put it:

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:21, ESV

The context of 2 Peter 1 is bigger than just oral prophecy; it includes all of the scriptures. And notice the way it came to us; he says “Men spoke.” Men. Humans. People spoke, people wrote. They didn’t repeat, they spoke. The Bible is a human document. It is written by people, in their time and culture, from the personal perspective, in the language they knew.

Notice the way it came to us; he says “Men spoke.” Men. Humans. People spoke, people wrote. They didn’t repeat, they spoke. The Bible is a human document.

At the same time, these men spoke “by the Holy Spirit.” The Bible is also a divine document. These folks didn’t write just any old thing, they were “carried along” in their speaking and writing by God. God had them speak what he wanted them to say because prophecy is never generated by human will. If it were, we would not be able to trust it to live our lives by; it would be fallible, like the men who wrote it. But since the Spirit carried them along, their words were perfect: a unique mixture of God’s story through the human pen.

We need to keep these two together, the human and the divine. Does that sound familiar? It should, we have that same connection in the person of Jesus. His is 100% human (minus sin) and 100% divine. He is the Word (John 1), and God’s written word is like that too.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s postmodern cynicism!

So what does this have to do with Joss Whedon and the Koran?

Whedon’s theory that DC’s characters are somehow too set apart from us to appeal to us anymore is probably a product of postmodernism, and its loss of faith in the omni-competent super man. Whedon’s Iron Man and Captain America are good men, but they are men. We can identify with their weaknesses and admire their strengths.

Likewise, since the Bible is thoroughly human, we hear our pain as one psalmist laments; and we hear our pleasure as another rejoices. As Job ponders the meaning of suffering, and as Qoheleth asks whether life is worth living in Ecclesiastes, we identify with them. We have those same struggles and triumphs. The Bible is human enough to connect with us, unlike Pre-Crisis Superman or Green Lantern of the 1960s and earlier.

As for the Koran, God didn’t drop our Bible from the sky on golden tablets or force the words out of a prophet’s mouth. As Yahweh was writing history, he was also writing his word, and it took about 39 authors over 1,500 years to get it all written. Men spoke inspired words as the Spirit carried them along: and only the Spirit could carry on the same, perfect, coherent message through all of that.

His word isn’t removed from our difficulty and disappointment and struggle; in fact, much of it was written amidst great pain and sorrow.

Then, in Jesus, God entered time and walked in our sandals, felt our pain and disappointment; he can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because he “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). His word isn’t removed from our difficulty and disappointment and struggle; in fact, much of it was written amidst great pain and sorrow. These are God’s very words, and they enter our common existence and speak beyond it. We have the promise that our enemies, sin and death and hell, will one day be defeated. In our confusion, God speaks truth. In the midst of hall of mirrors, God leads us on the path.

Were God to drop his word into our world, etched on a onyx stone in a language so unlike ours, we’d worship the stone rather than listen to the words. If He shouted from heaven, we would focus more on the sound of His voice.  The medium would eclipse the message.

Instead, God speaks in such a common form that we’re left with nothing but the message. It is comforting that the Bible is a human as well as a divine document. Rather than casting doubt on its trustworthiness, it shows how intimately God is involved in his creation, and how much He wants us to know fully who He is.

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Thank you for reading Redeeming Culture. Keep your eyes open in the coming weeks for a defense of Superman, because David thinks you’ve got him all wrong.

And thanks again to this week’s guest contributor, Tim Etherington of By Farther Steps. If you’d like to contribute an article, click here!

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