Essay

The Dark Night: Batman and Belief in God

By July 21, 2012 No Comments
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Yesterday afternoon I went to see The Dark Knight Rises.  It was a surreal experience – watching the first 20-30 minutes of the film thinking about what happened in Colorado the night before.  I kept thinking that this is what they were watching – unaware of what was coming.  When it came to the part of the film when it happened I wondered what it must have been like – the astonishment that gave way to pure terror.  As the film went on I let go and got lost in the story.  It was a good movie – really good.  

What happened that night in the movie theater was horrific – a large scale reminder of the thin veil that separates light from dark.  How easy it is for us to rest in our “civilization” – to think that this is simply an aberration, the work of a crazy person…someone who was either evil or incredibly sick.  Only these things happen too often.  A small boy killed by a stray bullet as he lay sleeping on the living room couch.  A distraught father who goes home and slits the throats of his daughters.  Two cousins riding their bikes… simply vanish.  Young men and women ripped apart by a roadside bomb.  The darkness is closer than we realize – breaking in unexpectedly, rupturing the loosely tied knot by which we make sense of the world.  

The Batman films are a pop culture representation of an ancient, dare I say universal, fantasy.  If only someone were there to shield that young boy from that bullet… if only someone would have saved those young girls from their father… if only someone would have taken down that young man in the movie theater.  Batman symbolizes a heroic fantasy that someone will protect us from the darkness – that justice will win out in the end… someone will save us.  But that’s not how it usually goes.  There is no Batman.  Actually, I think that’s what Christopher Nolan is trying to tell us.  Which is why “the people” play such an important part in the Batman films – Commissioner Gordon, the police, the average citizen… Batman couldn’t do it without them.  Nolan is trying to tell us that we have it in us to be good, to promote justice, to protect those who are vulnerable.

Believe it or not, what happened in that movie theater reaffirms my belief in God. There has to be justice for those whose lives are cut short.  There has to be something more for young men and women whose lives are ruptured by senseless violence.  There has to be a future… a reconciliation… a history – a place where they are able to live out the lives promised to them… lives that were cut short.  There has to be justice for parents who lose their kids too soon – there has to be peace and hope for the parents and loved ones of those who make the horrific decision to cross that thin line and carry out horrible atrocities like what happened the other night.  This is why I believe in God in the face of overwhelming evidence God may not exist.  This is why I cling to the hope of resurrection.  Not some transcendent pie in the sky afterlife of clouds and harps, but an adamant belief in justice and love – a hope that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God is at work putting this world right.  A hope that Julian of Norwich speaks of when she writes,  “And thus the good Lord answered all the questions and doubts I could put forward, saying most comfortingly, ‘I may make all things well, I can make all things well and I will make all things well and I shall make all things well; and you will see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well.'”  Come Lord Jesus.

 

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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