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A Parody of Faith


There's a fascinating scene in Man of Steel when the man who would be superman, Clark Kent, turns up at a local church seeking answers. He is sitting in alone when local pastor Father Leone asks what is troubling him. Here is where we pick up the conversation :
Father Leone: What's on your mind?
Clark Kent: I don't know where to start.
Father Leone: Wherever you want.
Clark Kent: That ship that appeared last night, I'm the one they're looking for.
Father Leone: [swallows nervously] Do you know... why they want you?
Clark Kent: No, but this General Zod... even if I surrender, there's no guarantee he'll keep his word. But if there's a chance I can save Earth by turning myself in, shouldn't I take it?
Father Leone: What does your gut tell you?
Clark Kent: Zod can't be trusted. The problem is, I'm not sure the people of Earth can be either. [walks away]
Father Leone: Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later.
As the two are talking we can see the cross sharply in the background of Father Leone. When the camera focuses on Clark we see over his shoulder a stained-glass image of the Lord Jesus Christ kneeling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. What are we to make of the exchange above and the imagery that accompanies it?

One way is to see it as suggesting favourably that Clark Kent is a type of Christ. That interpretation finds merit based on the broad narrative of the story. Clark comes to earth and is adopted by a couple with no other children, like Mary and Joseph before the incarnation. Being on earth somehow alters Clark’s DNA to the extent that he now shares two natures in one, like the Lord Jesus Christ.

Then there’s General Zod, all dressed in black, leading a rebel army that does his bidding. His mission like Satan is borne out of hate for Clark’s real father. And like Satan he is out to destroy mankind. His vision is to create an hell like environment on earth through terraforming . He hopes to be the Lord and Master of this new world. But before he can achieve his dreams he must battle Clark who, like the Lord Jesus, is repeatedly touted as one who will save humanity. And to cap it all off, we have the flashbacks of Clark’s earthly father, a sort of wise Joseph who reminds him with minimal cinematic subtlety, "you have another father", and "you are the answer to our deepest question".

But there's another more plausible way of looking at the church scene. The clue lies in the words used in the exchange. When Clark Kent explains his predicament Pastor Leone says, "Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later". Pastor Leone is in effect saying, 'do what I did, I took a leap of faith in Jesus and now I have learned to trust him, and it is working out for me and the world'.

Father Leone’s advice is rather puzzling because it comes after he has appealed to Clark to look inwards for assurance ("the gut"). He does not ask Clark to look to the Lord Jesus Christ or God in general. We may be tempted to ignore this fact, except the context suggests that would have been the natural response. Clark has after all come to church seeking spiritual help! Father Leone seems to be saying, ‘don’t look to God, look inwards’.

More troubling is Father Leone's belief that the Christian faith is a leap of faith or a leap into ignorance. And of course this “leap of faith” is not the path Clark takes. The movie directors are at pains to demonstrate from the start, particularly through flashbacks, that Clark has reasonable grounds to believe he can defeat General Zod : he knows his powers; he has mastered them; and, crucially there’s “revelation” of who he is and his purpose from his father.

Against this backdrop Father Leone’s advice that, “sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later” seems hollow. Clark’s decision to take on Zod is informed by knowledge not ignorance. Perhaps it is the hollow nature of the advice that explains why Clark walks away from the Pastor without acknowledging the advice or even saying bye. He came looking for Christ only to find an appeal to ignorance. The movie directors appears to want us to grasp the difference between blind faith in the Lord Jesus who is a victim and crushed on a stained glass against Clark’s informed determination that helps him shape earth's future.

Man of Steel’s presentation of the Christian faith is of course a parody. Father Leone’s faith is not a leap of faith but a leap from faith. True Christian faith does not mean jumping into the void and trusting God to take care of us. As Wittmer says “Christians aren’t required to begin each day with shouts of “Geronimo!””! Faith means to trust or commit to something, and the wisest believers rely on what they know, not what they don’t.

Father Leone is guilty of overplaying the risk factor of Christian faith. Yes, there’s always risk that accompanies faith because we don’t know everything, but it is wrong to say that it is a leap that trusts later! The Bible nowhere encourages us to trust what may or may not be true, but always tells us to rely solely on what we know. As Apostle Paul reminds us, knowledge precedes belief : “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14). And belief yields understanding, for our trust in God enables us to learn by experience what we had previously known only in the abstract. We understand God better because we now belong to his family, and so we are privileged to study him and his ways from the inside.

The reformers have taught well that true faith contains three elements: notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Faith begins when we know (notitia) the facts about God and His great salvation; it buds when we assent or acknowledge (assensus) that these facts are true; and it bursts into bloom when we wholeheartedly trust (fiducia) what we know. In this way faith involves the entire person committing intellect, will, and affections to God.

Here is how one preacher illustrated it. Faith is like crossing the road with child. My daughter is only coming to six months. Imagine she has grown and I am now trying to get her cross the road with me. Faith begins with my daughter knowing that this is my dad (notitia). She acknowledges that by taking my hand - that is assent (assensus). When she finally walks and crosses the road along me with me that is trust. The whole movement is what is called faith. Simply put, faith means to trust, commit, or put all of our weight on God and that is always based on what we know about God! It is not a lip into the dark! 

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