I’m always a little late to the party, but I rarely miss a good one.
Even though my kids disdain all things superhero, I eventually watched “Wonder Woman.” I left entertained and encouraged.
The storyline, acting, action and cinematography all played a part in making it a memorable film, but I found its accurate anthropology to be one of its greatest cultural contributions.
How we think about God matters, but perhaps just as much, so does how we think about humanity.
Before John Calvin dives deep in his “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” he admits a mysterious tension between knowledge of self and knowledge of God. Where does one end and the other begin?
More recently, New York Times contributor Ross Douthat argues in “Bad Religion” that heresy begins when we seek to flatten the tension between two seemingly opposing truths.
For instance, we tend to think simplistically in terms of either “good” or “bad,” but not both. Yet the Bible regularly presents us with a tension between the dignified “Imago Dei” (image of God) and the selfish sinful nature.
Valuable yet vicious, capable but culpable.
“Wonder Woman” falls into neither camp, providing a more robust, honest and astonishingly biblical anthropology.
In the final battle, the antagonist Ares (the Greek god of war) claims humanity does not “deserve” her intervening rescue. After all, they constantly make war and bad decisions, so any moral and rational entity should let humanity destroy itself.
No biggie, and no one would miss them.
Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes Jr. beat him to it, claiming, “I see no reason for attributing to a man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or to a grain of sand. I doubt if a shudder would go through the spheres if the whole ant heap were kerosene.”
Humanity has either lost its worth or never had it in the first place.
Typically at this point, the hero or heroine releases the tension and doubles down in the other direction claiming, “Yes they do deserve it!”
Luke Skywalker answers in a similar fashion when questioned why he would seek to rescue the ultimate bad boy Darth Vader, “There is still good in him, I can feel it.”
In the fourth century, a Brit name Pelgius perpetuated this teaching and got his name in the record books by leading many to cast their vote in favor of team “good guy.”
Instead, “Wonder Woman” rejects both Holmes’ cynicism and naive Pelagian optimism, reminding Ares, “I’ve seen the terrible things men do to each other in the name of hatred, and the lengths they’ll go to for love.”
She sees a magnificent messy mix of both greatness and wretchedness, just as Blaise Pascal claimed in “Pensees.” By embracing this tension, she redirects the narrative: “It has nothing to do with deserve. It has to do with what you believe, and I believe in love.”
In other words, her rescue doesn’t rely on binary good or bad, worthy or not worthy, but on a unilateral choice of costly love.
She opens the door to what Christians call grace. “Wonder Woman” reminds us of a much-needed hero who will do more than show us the way home, but pay our way there.
Jesus demonstrated his great love not by ignoring sin, but absorbing the punishment of sin on the cross. As a result, may we not limit our costly love and help to those who “deserve” it.
“Wonder Woman” reminds us of grace, “It has nothing to do with deserve.”
It never has.
Contact Pastor Geoff Henderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @theapostleGH. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald written by local clergy members.