At just around the one-hour mark of Man of Steel, we come to the point in the movie that finally does spur Superman into action from his life as a solitary and mysterious wanderer to a blue-and-red clad superhero in public view. The entire world receives video messages everywhere from General Zod saying that humanity is not alone in the universe, and that he is looking for Superman. Only Zod himself is aware of his plans to kill Superman to revive select bloodlines of Kryptonians and live on earth as a new Krypton.
Before beginning his superhero career in earnest, Superman has become the hunted. Now as we have been talking about Superman, we have given a bit of attention to him simply as a person like us except with superpowers, trying to make his way through a world that doesn’t know about him, doesn’t understand him, and is often trying to hurt him. However, we have given far more attention to Superman as a symbol for the divine, as he evinces a great many divine characteristics, in areas both related to character and role in the universe as well as his great personal power. We have attempted to show the relationship of Superman to the divine by showing his correspondence to the idea of a supernatural Messiah as found in the three major Abrahamic religions, or as a kind of king of angels in the traditional story of angels vs. demons that also comes from those religions. In the case of the New Testament and certain apocryphal Jewish literature, those two ideas, the idea of the Messiah and of a king of the angels, are actually one and the same. Here we will talk about Superman from all three perspectives.
How can the divine be hunted? Well, to begin with, let’s talk about antisemitism. Since Abraham four thousand years ago, and especially since the Sinai event with Moses and the Israelites five centuries later, the Jews have given the world an example of a society that is at least ideologically supposed to represent the will and the preferences of God for humanity, and with this they formed the oldest continuously practiced religion in the world. Nearly every where the Jews go, they do rather well, and they are generally hated for their presence to a degree that other cultural groups are not.
As religion developed by the Jews, there came the idea that in addition to being physically, genetically Jewish, those Jews who love and serve God and obey the Mosaic commandments given at Sinai are “true Jews,” both spiritually and physically. This idea of a “spiritual Jew” was expanded in the New Testament to make this “true Jew” out to be anyone, regardless of race, who loves and serves God, which they apply to anyone who serves the Jewish supernatural Messiah Jesus.
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.Romans 2:28-29
From all of this, we have the idea that there are people of God all over the world, whether they are Jews or not, and these people will be treated by the world as the Jews have been treated throughout history. Strange and wonderful things will happen to them, but that the more they serve God, the more problems they will have in the world.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.John 16:33
Generally in religion there is the idea that the better one does in life, the more commandments someone obeys, the better things will go for them. But in one of the oldest stories of the Bible, the book of Job, from the days of Moses or even earlier, the story of the difficulties of the man named Job tell a story of someone for whom everything got worse the better he did. Interestingly, this man Job, whose story has been preserved in the Jewish scriptures, was probably not a Jew himself. He was from the land of Uz, which was in modern day Jordan or Syria.
Along with the woman named Ruth, who was a Moabite who lived in the culture of the Jews, we have in Job a story revered by Jews about a man living a certain aspect of Jewish spiritual life, who was not actually Jewish. This further reinforces the idea that there are people of God all over who live the life of these “true Jews” who love and serve God.
In the Superman mythos, Superman is raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent in Kansas as a Methodist. So in Man of Steel, when General Zod announces to the world that aliens have arrived and they are looking for one of their own, Superman goes to see a Christian priest. He intuitively understands that Zod is not his friend, but out of love for humanity, he offers himself to Zod in order to protect his adoptive race. In this sense, Superman is one of these “true Jews,” or citizens of the Kingdom of God, who exemplifies the ideas of the divine servant. And his greatest feat thus far as a servant of the divine is to be hunted by the forces of evil.
Further, though, we can look at Superman as a symbol or allegory for the expression of the divine attributes in the world. This is when things get interesting. Have you ever experienced something very terrible, or seen such a thing happen to someone else, such that you were brought to tears? If so, ask yourself what part of you suffered. It was the loving, compassionate part, correct? Here we have the idea that if God is love and compassion, then whenever the loving and compassionate person suffers due to their compassion, they are displaying a kind of suffering of the divine. That is, if you have seen someone raped, killed, or abused, and it moved you to tears, it was the divine within you suffering and moving you to cry. The idea of Superman being hunted by the forces of evil represents metaphorically the grief of the divine, a form of divine anguish or suffering.
Finally, though, if we think of Superman as a symbol for an angelic king or supernatural Messiah who represents the divine in the world, we can compare this to the metastory that we have been referencing about the war between angels and demons, or between the fallen angel Satan and this angelic king. In that story, Satan has been cast out of heaven down to earth where he is nothing but an invisible and powerless shade, though when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he somehow gained the ability to corrupt their hearts, and with that, corrupt the world they lived in: our world. Satan has a plan to get out of his prison and make this world into his own heaven or gain the ability from it to take over the actual heaven where the angels live by manipulating the hearts of humanity, since this world was given to us.
In short, Satan corrupts and destroys humanity in order to wage a war against God. This gives us a very interesting idea. For the angels and their king to stand aside and watch the perversion of our world into a world of death and betrayal, they must suffer the grief of a man tied to a chair and forced to watch while hostile soldiers rape and kill his wife. This offers us a different kind of take on the idea of divine suffering.
Not much has been spoken of here about the idea of divine vengeance. Divine judgment has only been mentioned fleetingly. Not much will be said about it here. It is a very difficult and uncomfortable topic for many. Suffice it to say, over decades of interacting with religious people of various forms of spirituality, I hear constant complaints about our personal suffering, and I hear regularly the laments of suffering for other human victims. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this form of lament. It is actually the lament of the divine within the hearts of the godly for the suffering of themselves and of their fellow man. But I rarely, and I mean very rarely, hear anyone lamenting about the poor angels and their king who endure watching our slaying of each other from the beginning of this world to the end. That is, not many people ask themselves how God feels about all of this. Those that do often imagine an angry and vengeful God who will do terrible things to imperfect people like you and me. However, very, very few people think of God as an infinitely compassionate being forced to give evil its day and watch his children slaughtering each other…until the time comes when God can correct things.
On a final note about that, just understand that the world’s major religions are quite logical in stating that there will one day come a reckoning, and this reckoning will come with such power as to make a fully unfettered kryptonian fist look like a kiss from a butterfly. With this we need not be afraid, because it is we who will be avenged. The meek shall inherit the earth. Satan and his demons will be taken out of the equation. Evil will be vanquished.
We see throughout the later scenes from Man of Steel that Superman goes from being the hunted to being the hunter. He defeats the entire company of rogue kryptonians. This is not a thing to fear or avoid. It is an occasion of joy and relief for the audience. Likewise, the final vanquishing of evil by the divine forces should be a source of relief and joy for us as well.