My favorite superhero of all time is Batman. For those unfamiliar with the story of Batman (shame on you!), I will give you the shorthand version in the majority of DC Comic Universes and stories regarding his origins. Bruce Wayne is the child of a business mogul Thomas Wayne (Owner of Wayne Enterprises) and his mother Martha Wayne. One night they are heading down an alley after taking in a theatrical performance and are approached by an unknown man (Joe Chill, small time crime boss is the accepted murderer in some circles). This man kills both of Bruce’s parents in front of him traumatizing a young Bruce for life.
As Bruce gets older, he trains in martial arts and begins to develop a knack for detective work, innovation, and intelligence. This would eventually manifest into Batman. Bruce became Batman when he put on his mask and suit. Batman would go out in the dark of Gotham City and stop all sorts of criminals, madmen, and crazy folks. The general idea is that Bruce was a billionaire running his father’s company (where he got the money to innovate as Batman) while secretly being Batman.
Or was Batman really secretly Bruce Wayne?
In this post, I want to discuss what the dichotomy between Bruce Wayne and Batman has to do with Christians and Theology.
We are all shaped and molded by our scars in the lives we live. For Bruce, he witnessed the death of his parents right in front of him at a very young age and grew up under the care of a butler in the most corrupt city the world had ever known. That has to make an impact. Somewhere along the way, Bruce gets a severe hunger for justice that isn’t going to be fulfilled by the Gotham City Police Department or anyone in power in his city. After training, he dawns the suit of Batman as a symbol for justice.
You know, like any sane human being would do.
So scary (intimidating) bats only out in the night fighting for justice and doing what Gotham City had failed to do for years about sums up, in the simplest of terms, what Batman did. There were two things Batman adhered to as rules which and one was obvious while the other was noble.
Rule #1: Batman’s identity was to remain a secret to everyone except his butler Alfred.
Rule #2: Batman can never take a life.
There’s a problem with the second rule that really points to the dichotomy and is a good place to start contrasting Bruce Wayne and Batman. Namely, Bruce takes the helm of Wayne Enterprises at a time when they were battling corruption involving money laundering, death, and helping the mob. (Personal Note: Gotham is tackling this angle quite well.)
Wayne Industries had their hand in murder themselves, see where this is going? Even if we discuss other stories involving Wayne Industries where they are building arms and weapons for the government, they are still contributing to war and death.
And yet, Batman cannot kill.
That’s because when Bruce Wayne puts on Batman’s suit, he ceases to be Bruce Wayne. He dawns the mask of Batman and he becomes someone different. He becomes someone who has no connection to the reality of his company’s reputation and the death that surrounded it during its construction. The mask became an opportunity to be someone different who could work outside of the cut throat business world and outside of the corruption both there and in his city to bring criminals to justice.
Batman is the symbol of everything noble and admirable in Gotham City, while Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy in charge of the world’s largest company living “high on the hill”. Batman is in the streets, Bruce is in a mansion.
Something else happened when Bruce put on the mask and it is a pretty big deal. Batman was seemingly “perfect” and someone who had it “all together”. Bruce Wayne was a human being who was seemingly helpless and troubled by the death of his family and the world around him, but Batman has the strength to fight and combat that. Batman is all but untouched by the problems of the world around him. He is seemingly superhuman. At the very least, he is a superhero. Yet, he has no mystical superpowers.
We do get glimpses of his humanity from time to time when Bruce is masquerading as Batman, but he always overcomes the obstacles and gets the job done for the time being.
Something to be said about all of this in regards to the Christian life.
I wonder at times just how much pressure there is within Christianity to “have it all together”. How much weight is there on Christians to present themselves as a people who never have issues, faults, or imperfections? It is ironic that we nod our heads to the familiar quote “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” in private, but we masquerade in the public eye as if nothing is wrong with us or nothing ever was.
As if once we accept Christ, the atonement made our lives perfect and without blemish. Almost like we’re superhuman.
I’d say we’re putting on masks like Batman. And like Batman, glimpses of our humanity show through even when we try to present ourselves as having the perfect life.
Because, according to the myth, if you’re saved, life gets better. Right?
Nothing could be further from the truth. In all of the talk about regeneration and fruit baring, there is a narrative that seems to promote the idea that if someone has not seen a change in their life circumstances, they are obviously not saved, chosen, or predestined.
What if we look at these terms in fresher ways? Specifically “predestined”. As far as I can tell, the term “predestined” does not mean that some who seek Christ will be ignored or denied salvation. Nor does it mean that some people are simply hardwired, created, or genetically predisposed to reject Christ at every turn.
What if we looked at the term “predestined” as all of creation being predestined to salvation through Christ as long as they accept it? No litmus test, no marginalization, no perfection possible.
So what does this mean practically?
It means we are all broken, hurting, and longing for the presence of Christ.
If we are to say the world is a broken place in need of redemption and continual grace, we should be equally ready to say that we are broken and in need of redemption and continual grace.
Why do we put on masks and masquerade as if we have it all figured out? Why do we live like Bruce Wayne who lived a dark and hurt life in private and masqueraded as a gleeful millionaire and a superhero in public?
We need to be more bluntly honest about ourselves with ourselves and with others. How can we possibly notice the necessity of the Cross, Communion, and Inner Baptism in private or in the pew while we act as if they’re unnecessary in the public eye? What I mean is this: How can we possibly masquerade as a people who have it all together in public when the truth is we know we are broken?
Perhaps we do it to appease a society that seems too fast paced to keep up with and seemingly does not have the time to deal with personal issues. If that is the case, why do we have no problem boasting?
It is my belief that we masquerade to make ourselves both look (outwardly) and feel better (ego) in a way that justifies our emotional and spiritual violence against others. Think about it, Bruce Wayne never really fought much in Gotham unless he was dressed like Batman.
Batman was the image of perfection Bruce Wayne lacked and therefore made Batman the judge between wrong and right.
But Bruce did fight without the suit too and so do we. When we spend so much time among society building ourselves up and living a lie of perfection, we bring it into our private lives as well. Perhaps this is best realized by the idea of resisting God’s will and pursuing our own. This also leads to emotional and spiritual fights within a family, friendship circle, or those in your communities.
Sometimes, even, physical fights.
What of those spiritual fights as well? How often do we deny people the love of Christ in our churches, our homes, and our theology? How often do we disguise it behind “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” as if we can embody Christ’s love fully as we masquerade in masks or justify the term “hate” in the same theology that teaches love, acceptance, and respect?
What if the heroes are the ones who take off the masks and give the “least of these” someone to confide in, identify with, and struggle alongside?
What if heroes are the ones who put their scars on full display instead of wearing a suit to hide them?
What if we stopped living a double life and lived just one?
The beautiful mess of it all.
That’s what Paul did as he remained honest about being persecuted, imprisoned, and in a state of suffering. That’s what the Psalmist did as they wrote in their anguish and despair about the worldly conflicts around them. That is what we should do too.
In reality, there is no Batman. There are no Batcaves, no Bat Gadgets, no superheroes.
There are only human beings.
Maybe, just maybe, the places we have scars are not as unique as we think they are. Maybe we will find we are not alone and nor should we be. Maybe we will find strength in our honesty publically as well as privately if we become who embrace who we truly are.
Batman lives in a world that is a fabricated lie. At least his is written and drawn in comic books.
It is time we stopped living in fabricated lies that we create ourselves.