The most anticipated superhero film in history opened to rather mixed reviews last weekend. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is perhaps the most controversial superhero movie I’ve seen. It’s also the most theological. A profound philosophical question undergirds the film: Can a being of great power be truly good?
The maniacal mastermind, Lex Luthor, subtlety introduces this theme when he asks Senator Finch, “Do you know the oldest lie in America, Senator? It's that power can be innocent.” In one of the more depressing moments of the movie, even Superman seems to agree, remarking to Lois, “No one stays good in this world.”
The theme explodes to the surface, however, when Luthor levies some pretty heavy accusations against Superman… and God. In his climactic confrontation with the Man of Steel, Lex opines, “No man in the sky intervened when I was a boy to deliver me from daddy's fist and abominations. I figured out way back if God is all-powerful, He cannot be all good. And if He is all good, then He cannot be all-powerful. And neither can you be.”
It’s an age old argument. Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with it for centuries. And even among Christians, the question gnaws at us from the back of our minds. Isn’t there a part of us that wonders, “Is Luthor right?” Does the presence and pervasiveness of evil in our world demonstrate God’s limitations? After all—it’s argued—if God is all powerful couldn’t He rid the world of evil? And if God is all good, wouldn’t he want to? Let me offer three possible answers to that question.
First, if God were to rid the world of evil He would have to start with you and me. I believe that God created humanity with free will—the freedom to choose for ourselves between good and evil; right and wrong. Unfortunately, we all choose evil at times. We lie, we cheat, we act selfishly, we lose our tempers, give into to temptations, we make cutting and cruel remarks. The Bible sums up our situation, saying, “No one is good—no one in all the world is innocent” (Romans 3:10 TLB). We often forget that for God to rid the world of evil, He would have to rid the world of us.
Furthermore, I believe that God can bring great good even out of the darkest evil. Bad things happen and they happen with unpredictable frequency and varying levels of intensity. Some are mere inconveniences; others are life-shattering disasters. But there is a promise in God’s Word that can meet every negative moment head-on, and given enough time, it will resolve every problem. The Bible says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). Everything includes evil. Given time, even the most painful, heart wrenching experiences can be woven together for our eventual good.
Finally, rather than simply removing our suffering, God decided to join us in it. It’s no coincidence that Batman v Superman opened on Good Friday. The final scenes of the movie point us to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, sacrificed himself on the cross on behalf of a fallen and evil world. He experience the worst humanity had to offer—the lies, the anger, the bitterness, the brutality, and betrayal. He took it all upon himself as if to say, “I’m with them.” In so doing, Jesus opened the door to eternity. In the face of evil, the Bible shouts, “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).