The surprising gospel message of the Green Lantern
In the climactic scene of Green Lantern, test-pilot-turned-superhero, Hal Jordan, leads his mortal enemy, Parallax, toward the sun, hoping that the gravitational pull will suck the monster toward a point of no return. Parallax is the personification of evil—a giant mash up of Medusa, octopus, and factory smoke. Parallax gets his power from the energy of fear. He induces fear in everyone he encounters, feeds on their fear, and grows larger from the energy. He has grown so powerful and fearful that he can now destroy entire planets. He is about to destroy Earth when he is confronted by Hal Jordan.
The will to overcome fear
Jordan has assumed the role of a Green Lantern, which is a member of an intergalactic corps committed to enforcing peace and justice and destroying evil wherever they find it. Jordan has been empowered for this superhuman role by donning a mysterious ring that harnesses the good “will” of the Universe. But Jordan remains “only human,” even when he is wearing the ring. In order to wield the power of the ring effectively, Jordan must overcome his own fear—through the force of will—and imagine how to defeat his enemy.
The primal conflict is between fear and willpower. Is Jordan’s will stronger than the fear that Parallax senses in him and seeks to exploit?
The gospel message
For me, the parallels to the Jesus-story are obvious. In the garden, on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus confronts his own fear. Scripture says that his anguish was so great that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). But unlike Hal Jordan, Jesus does not rely on his human will to overcome fear. He prays to the Father: “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
What Christians know from Jesus’ struggle with fear is that we cannot will fear away. We cannot defeat fear with only our human effort. But by submitting to the will of God, however, we can face any fear. The fear will not vanish, but neither will it defeat us. Jesus did not escape his time of trial by dreaming up a dazzling CGI special effect at the end of the story. But he did imagine a creative alternative to death. With God’s help, Jesus was able to see that physical death is not an end, but a beginning. Once he saw that, death had no more power over him. Fear was vanquished.
What do we fear?
Most of us are not being confronted with certain death today. Yet we all fear something. In most cases, we let that fear feed on itself, and it grows a little larger, a little stronger everyday. We might fear we are not good enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not loveable enough. We might fear we are not worthwhile. These fears hold us back, convincing us we will fail. They whisper to us at night, robbing us of sleep. They prevent us from loving others, because we are afraid of rejection.
Just like Jesus, we cannot stop the fear. We cannot eliminate it. But we can overcome it. We can stop the feeding cycle that gives fear its power.
How Jesus’ disciples overcame fear
Three days after Jesus died, his friends were still afraid. They were hiding out, paralyzed with fear that they too might die. Jesus, now risen from the dead, appeared to them. He had one message for them: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
The antidote to fear is to get up and go do whatever it is we are afraid to do. We are sent by the Father to confront our fear, just as Jesus was.
We don’t get a mysterious ring that gives us superhuman power. We have something better. We have the peace of Christ and the power of his Spirit.