What’s Your Superpower? or Why Can’t You Bear It?

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

Wonder Twin Powers ActivateFor clarity’s sake, let’s agree to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged definition: “power that is excessive, abnormal, or superior to existing power.” Batman’s superior gadgets don’t count. Given enough money and sufficient practicality, all such gadgets eventually become ubiquitous and thus no longer superior.

For the sake of discussion, let’s “limit” ourselves to superpowers. If you need a refresher list, you can find one here. If you’re done with this post and want to waste time creating a previously unknown superpower, you can do that here. Just scroll down to the green button at the bottom of the page and click “Create your own power!”

In an ironic twist of fantasy, the sidebar on the latter link will attempt to sell you “a weird trick to remove dark spots without a doctor,” though this superpower-offer may have more to do with algorithms that follow me than it does with you.

OK, then. Got your superpower?

Did you wish for the power to heal sick people “without a doctor,” also called vitakinesis? Perhaps you picked precognition? Psionic ability to control the weather? Density control (AKA the ability to walk through walls)? And let’s not forget that controversial capacity for omnilingualism?

These superpowers (and more) are all extant in Scripture.

Peter’s shadow was vitakinetic enough to land him in jail, out of which he walked through locked doors, past unaware guards (Acts 5:15, 19–25). Precognition was common among prophets of the Old and New Testaments (Joel 2:28; Acts 11:28). Jesus calmed the storm with his psionic abilities (Mark 4:39). And while Paul preferred this as a personal prayer language, he never forbid the practice of speaking the language of heaven in community (1 Cor 12:7, 11; 14:2, 4, 27–28; he just required translation to make it edifying for all).

So why did you choose the superpower that you did?

More importantly, what longing fuels our fascination with superpowers? Why do we immerse ourselves in yet another remake of Superman? X-men? The Avengers? And why, when the longing gets old, do we resign ourselves to pushing a green button?

At Jesus’ death on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, exposing the “holy of holies” (Matt 27:50–51). We often say this means we can now approach God, entering his sanctuary under the mediation of Christ, our sacrificial lamb and high priest (Heb 6:20; 13:11–14).

The fact is, with the shredding of the curtain, God’s presence is no longer contained in a temple. God’s Spirit is out. We are the ones exposed.

With the presence of God, comes the power of God. And this Holy Spirit is the essential source of community life in churches (1 Cor 12:13; Gordon D. Fee, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, 66). God was not diluted, as it were, when he left the holy-of-holies to get glory to the ends of the earth. Paul expects superpower manifestations of God’s Spirit in the worshiping community. It never occurs to him not to.

Paul expects God’s occasional (that is, occasioned by God’s specific plans for each community) manifestations of power, but he does not demand them (Fee, 167, 177). Instead, he describes his desire to know “the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering” (Phil 3:10).

So if we believe in this power of resurrection and in the presence of Almighty God among us, why do we continue to settle for creating our own fictitious powers?

I am not talking about C. S. Lewis’s “ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea” (The Weight of Glory, 26). Clearly we have imagined and been disappointed. We’ve boarded the train for the beaches of Santa Barbara, but we’re still suffering the long trip.

Instead I’m talking about something more robust than imagination. I’m talking about a community in such a habit of acting our faith in the Almighty that we bear our disappointment in his plan, in his timing. I’m talking about congregations so steeped in life with God that we do not shuffle God back behind the curtain whenever we push a green button and “nothing” happens.

When people in our local communities of faith are suffering the consequences of joblessness and divorce and eating disorders, how dare we quench the Spirit by denying his power (1 Thess 5:19–20)? When the civic communities, which our churches serve, struggle to support young men with mental illness or poverty or hunger by offering them something besides incarceration, how dare we offer them un-discerned “prophecies” that fail the goodness test (1 Thess 5:21–22)?

The power of the resurrection is not simply for the past, the season of the apostles. Neither is it for the future, because when perfection comes, there will be no more “building up” of the church (1 Cor 13:8–11). It will be built. God’s power is at work now in the midst of the fellowship of his suffering.

We have been offered this Superpower. God is out. And we are too puny to bear him.

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