Since 1939, the late Stan Lee has been responsible for creating or co-creating some of the world’s most popular superheroes. His super-human imagination gave birth to Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man.
Of course, the world has no shortage of storytellers, but Lee was something of a mutant in the field. The Avengers series alone has generated more than $10 billion in ticket sales at the box office since 2008. So, what set his stories apart from the rest? Lee was able to tap into two deeply rooted human instincts. He explains his secret in a 1984 interview with Entertainment Today:
“The whole formula, if there was one, I think was to say: ‘let’s assume that somebody really could walk on walls like Spider-Man, or turn green and become a monster like The Hulk. That’s a given; we’ll accept that. But, accepting that, what would that person be like in the real world if he really existed? Wouldn’t he still have to worry about making a living? Or people distrusting him? Or having acne and dandruff? Or his girlfriend jilting him? What are the real problems people would have?’ I think that’s what made the books popular.”
There it is, super-humans with normal struggles.
We all know we need a superhero to rescue us from our enemies, from calamities unforeseen, from ourselves. But we simultaneously want this hero to be someone with whom we can identify. These two instincts are woven into our fallen nature, the knowledge that we need someone to save us and the deep desire for others to understand our struggles. This part of our fallen nature prepares the human heart for the redemptive work of Jesus.
The author of Hebrews expresses it this way:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Jesus did not simply rescue us from afar. He became a man and subjected himself to all the tyrannies of a fallen world. He saves as one who can sympathize.
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