As a youth worker, I am constantly on the look-out for examples from culture that I can use to help explain Jesus. Films, TV shows, music and YouTube videos can all help people get their head around the amazing story told in the Bible. I used to think, “wow, isn’t it great how there are so many ideas in popular culture that reflect Jesus in some way!” Then I started thinking about why that is.
Popular culture is just what it says on the tin – popular. The film makers in Hollywood have one main objective – make successful films that bring in big bucks. In order to do that they need to make films that appeal to popular ideas. So what are the ideas that we see time and time again in the most successful films?
The forces of good overcome the forces of evil
The hero saves the day
The bad guys get their comeuppance
The hero wins the woman
This is the film formula that people like to go and see – this is what makes most people feel satisfied at the end of a movie. It’s a story that’s hard to get away from, but whose story is it? It’s easy to think that this just happens to be the format we like, that there’s no reason behind it other than the fact that it’s tried and tested. But the more I look at it, the more it resembles the story of Jesus Christ.
How often does the hero have to do something completely unselfish, and make a personal sacrifice?
How often is the hero betrayed by one of his closest allies?
You could get confused by the ‘winning the woman’ bit. Jesus never had a romantic relationship, so who did He win?
Ephesians 5 says:
31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Christ will be united to the church, his bride, whom he has won. The story of Jesus is the story of a hero who saves, delivers justice, fights evil, brings happiness, wins a bride and receives his glorious reward. Bearing in mind that there are other kinds of stories – the folk tales of sly animals (Brer Rabbit, Anansi), the mythologies of trickster gods and horror stories where everyone dies – why is the hero story most popular?
At this point I should probably remind myself that it’s just a theory, but I think that our culture is still obsessed with the story of Jesus. The problem is that though we see it all the time, we don’t recognise it. Instead of letting the hero story point us to the ultimate hero, we let Superman replace the Son of Man.