Teleportation would be my wish.
Strong arguments can be made for mind control, super speed (or time manipulation), and telekinesis. But if I could only wish for one superpower, it would be teleportation. I could live anywhere I wanted. I’d make a ton of money off worldwide instant delivery. I could develop my own unbeatable fighting style. (After all, you can’t hurt someone you can’t hit). I could even help with disaster relief in remote places. The benefits of teleportation are pretty compelling to me.
Heroes v. Villains
I have always loved stories with superpowered characters. I imagine myself as the protagonist, realizing or gaining my powers. In every story, my superpowers also give me purpose: fighting evil and protecting the innocent.
It’s always easy to separate villains from heroes; just watch how they treat other people. Villains sacrifice others (metaphorically and literally) to accomplish their goals. Heroes choose personal sacrifice to preserve life and freedom for the people around them. It’s impossible for evil to truly trust others, because it’s focused on benefiting itself first. Evil is always characterized by fear and selfishness. Good, on the other hand, values others just as much as self.
Superheroes never actually save us.
For most of my life I daydreamed about having superpowers. But a couple years ago I started to notice something was wrong in every story I read and movie I watched. Despite their awesome powers, superheroes never actually save us. They only delay the inevitable recurrence of evil.
I realized that superheroes are more like doctors. When they fight evil, they cut out a tumor so it doesn’t spread and hurt others. They bring bad guys to justice so that the rest of us can live our lives in peace for a while longer. But they cannot prevent that tumor in the first place. They can’t stop evil before it starts. Heroes are doing a good thing when they protect others. But superpowers, by their very nature, are external; they are unable to change our nature.
You & I Don’t Measure Up
Our real problem as a species has never truly been our lurid examples of self-serving evil. It’s easy to condemn murder and sexual abuse. But I would argue that those actions are merely inevitable symptoms of the selfishness living in all of us. Evil is just a matter of scale: how and in what ways we sacrifice others on our behalf.
Don’t believe me? Consider: In your entire life have you ever chosen to serve self at the expense of others? That’s evil. “But Joel” you tell me, “it’s impossible to be perfectly selfless.” I agree; selflessness is not in my nature. But that doesn’t make selflessness any less an aspect of goodness. It just means that you and I don’t measure up.
I am determining who I become
with every choice I make.
Maybe you disagree with my argument of scale: “Are you saying that murder is the same as gossip?” I grant that the physical effect on the victim is certainly different. But my motivation is the same in both cases. I am still choosing to sacrifice someone else (even if they don’t know it) to benefit myself. I am determining who I become with every choice I make. My selfish choices have the same negative effect on me, regardless of the precise ways I act them out.
“What about all the good I’ve done with my life? Doesn’t that balance out my selfishness?”
Let’s think of it in superhero terms: What if Batman carefully placed some secretive Bat Cameras around for his own private peep show? Measured against all the lives he saved by locking up super villains, violating someone’s privacy sounds like a small enough thing. If those cameras were never found, no one would even know they’d been harmed. And yet I would be outraged if those cameras were pointed at me. In spite of all the good that he had accomplished, I would not feel like that violation of my privacy was justified. I would not hesitate to call that act wrong.
In the same way, my evil cannot be balanced out by accomplishing any amount of good. Unfortunately, trying to do good or be good is still the best answer most of us have.
The Role I Played
I grew up in church. I knew every story, every answer, every hymn. I knew I was expected to be selfless, and so that’s the role that I played. But inside I was exhausted. I assumed that if I maintained the appearance long enough, it would stick; one day I’d feel genuinely fulfilled by this hollow performance. In the meantime I spent my private life pursuing my own comfort and pleasure, because that actually gave me fleeting glimmers of happiness. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it was the best compromise I had between who I believed I should be, and who I felt I was inside.
No superhero wakes up and says, “Today is the day.” Their new identity always comes by surprise. It was definitely a surprise when it happened to me.
I was out camping in the woods. Emotionally, I was finally ready to give up. Up to that point I had built my whole life around immediate gratification. My job was chosen for its simplicity, so that I could spend all my free time gaming. I hated any activity, like shopping or cooking, that interrupted my pursuit of happiness. I had almost completely wrecked my marriage; turns out you shouldn’t treat your spouse like she is just an accessory to your enjoyment of life. Standing there in the woods, I realized I was tired of the disconnect between my beliefs and my feelings.
I finally gave up
trying to be good on my own.
I didn’t experience a blinding vision or find an alien artifact imbued with power. I just accepted prayer from a friend and said to God: “I will obey anything you say to me.” I finally gave up trying to be good on my own. I accepted that I had been ruled by my selfishness. I felt empowered to recognize and reject the evil in me instead of trying to hide it.
Now I am learning how to imitate Jesus, genuinely valuing others in the same way that I value myself. Instead of mimicking selfless actions, I am acting out of my transformed inner desires. It has been a process; I don’t always choose to access the power of the Spirit. But just as every selfish act of evil formed my hollow future, so too my engagement with Jesus is forming me into the best version of myself.
Changing Where It Counts
Superheroes cannot ultimately save the world, because they cannot empower us to live unselfishly. They can only punish the visible symptoms of evil. We are all the problem. We cloak our selfishness, even from ourselves, by trying to act better.
I used to live like that, desperately imitating good while inwardly serving myself. Today I am being empowered to genuinely choose sacrificial love. It’s not flashy, like teleportation. It’s not quick, like super speed. But by choosing to access and accept this power of the Spirit, I am changing where it counts. And that change is rippling out into the world around me.
It’s not the one I wished for, but I think I might have a superpower.
posted on February 16, 2018
Meet the Author:
Joel Jackson is currently pursuing faithfulness, wisdom, and peace in Michigan. He enjoys reading, writing, listening to music, and playing Magic: the Gathering. You can find out more about him and his ongoing projects at www.joeljackson.us and on Twitter: @inexplicably8