The Green Lantern v Paul on Election

Green LanternI admit it. I grew up reading comic books and still enjoy a good comic-book based film. The Green Lantern wasn’t one of those. The Green Lantern was never one of my favorites. I was a Captain America guy. The 2011 Green Lantern film looked cheap and was poorly written but I did notice that it had a theology and that caught my attention.

Of course all the superhero comics and movies are essentially recycled pagan myths about the gods right down to the internecine battles. They probably have more in common with Gnostic Redeemer myths than with the triune God of Scripture. Nevertheless, they do often teach a theology.

The ring elects Hal Jordan, despite his faults, because it (fore)saw in him some quality that qualified him to be chosen. He was elected because of his courage. The ring saw that he had this virtue and in the story we follow him as he discovers for himself what the ring has already seen. It is the story of self-realization. That is the theology of our age. We have within us great potential if only we could access and realize it.

The ring had a certain foreknowledge but it had no power to bring about what it foresaw. It could only present Hal with the opportunity to become great, to be a hero, if he would seize the opportunity, reach within himself, and become re-born as the hero he could be.

Implied throughout the story is that the only thing restraining Hal from becoming a true hero was Hal himself. He had lived a decadent lifestyle not because he’s fallen but because he’s trying to hide his fear with false bravado. He had within himself the potential to face his inner demons, conquer them, and become a sort of savior for humanity.

Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, the film teaches a doctrine of conditional election. The ring chose Hal because it saw that he had this latent virtue of courage and that he would, when circumstances demanded, abandon his callowness and manifest that virtue.

I’m sure that you see where this is going. The biblical story is completely different.

The biblical story is not about our self-discovery but about our voluntary self-delusion. We were created good and righteous and we voluntarily, willfully chose disobedience and death. According to Scripture, God saves his people not because of what is in them (Deut 7) but because of what is in him: grace and mercy toward sinners. He loved us from all eternity, in Christ (Eph 1–2) not because of us. We were dead in sins and trespasses. Our hearts are, by nature, after the fall, full of evil continually. Our minds are idol factories (Institutes, 1.11.8). Nevertheless, God loves sinners and has, in his mercy, saved them by out of his unconditional favor (grace).

Put another way: we come to life and to faith only because God has loved us and chosen us, in Christ, before all time.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (Eph 1:3-6, ESV).

According to Paul, believers have been blessed “in Christ,” they have been chosen “in Christ” before the foundation of the world. Those who believe were predestined for adoption, not because of anything in us, not that we might discover ourselves but that we exist to the praise of his glorious grace. In other words, our salvation is for us but it is about his glory.

It’s interesting to see how paganism so often imitates the biblical account of the world and corrupts an essential idea. It takes the shedding of blood as the atonement for sin and turns it into a means of gaining power and becoming gods. It turns knowledge from analogy into a way to become god. Here in this silly comic-book movie it turns gracious election into a path toward self-deification.

The truth is that election is not that we become gods but that God is and that he has graciously redeemed us who believe, not because we believe but because he is gracious. As believers we know that we are but dust and that God’s sovereign grace is all.

It’s fine to park your mind and watch a dumb film but there is theology even in the dumbest film and in this case the film’s theology turns the truth on its head. Silly lantern, election isn’t for the virtuous, it’s to display God’s grace and mercy and to generate not self-congratulations in us but praise of his glorious grace in Christ.

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  1. What really bothers me about this post is that I am tired of hearing about the Justice League. The Legion of Super Heros were far superior. And I guess we don’t get a blog post about them until they make a movie after them, which will be never. A movie is not in their destiny or even their predestiny.

    BTW, maybe the reason why we disagree so much in the practical theology field of politics is because you preferred Marvel while I preferred DC.

  2. When I was a kid, I kinda liked Archie and Veronica. Where that puts me on the comic book continuum, I couldn’t say. Should I hang my head in shame? Having reached the age where it’s almost impossible to be embarrassed, I don’t much care either way.

    By the way, Adam West IS Batman.

    • Hey I was a fan of Archie, Veronica, and Betty! I wanted to go to that high school. There were no malt shops where I went to school.

      I forgot Jughead and Reggie. Hated him.

  3. It was also interesting how the will is so emphasized in the movie. It was representative of his power to defeat evil- victory via the power of the Green Lantern’s will. I imagine Pelagius would have been a fan.

  4. Dr. Clark, you’re not the only former comic book reader here. 🙂 I read mostly Marvel comics, but also some of John Bryne’s run on Superman. I’ve never seen the recent “Green Lantern” film and have only a superficial knowledge of him (although as a comic book reader, much more than the general public). I’ve been thinking a lot about this post since I read it yesterday. I’m confessionally Reformed and agree with you completely about depravity, election, regeneration, faith, and the rest of the glorious salvation we enjoy in Christ.

    That said, I’m not sure how exactly it relates to the fictional universe of the Green Lantern. Surely the idea that one must struggle with ones own self to find courage to defeat a great enemy is an oft-repeated theme in fiction, even some great fiction. That the somehow sentient Lantern ring would be able to see that Hal is capable of courage that he himself doubted seems (at least to me) to be to be interesting premise for drama. Similarly, the idea that an otherwise normal, average Joe might be able to become an epic hero is interesting, again, for storytelling purposes. (Note: I’m guessing that these are some of the themes from the one or two trailers I saw for the film and your commentary.)

    Again, I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just not sure how closely these two ideas of election can be compared. They certainly can at least from the perspective you explained, and it is certainly worth considering. Anyway, thanks again for yet another thought-provoking post!

  5. When I was a kid, comic books were 10¢ apiece. Does the Green Lantern subscribe to the Federal Vision?

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