I went to the theatres this week to watch the new Superman movie, and it was incredible for so many reasons. My eyes were glued to the screen but my mind was racing on overdrive. How the plotline, characters, and quotes paralleled with Christianity was simply too compelling to not believe that there was some kind of theological influence while the story was being composed. Superman truly represented and embodied Jesus: he was and is the heroic figure that the metanarratives of heaven and earth prophesied about and anticipated as their savior from all the forces of evil.
The resemblance was incredibly striking, whether you are a Christian or not. In this blog, I want to outline a number of parallels between Superman, the savior figure, and Jesus, the human savior.
Here are some main ones that came to mind:
1. Other-worldly conflict—the movie starts off with a conflict of power in Krypton, the heavenly realm. General Zod, wanting total power of the planet, gathers a number of natives from the planet to confront and overthrow the leaders of Krypton, mainly Jor-el, Superman’s Father. General Zod and his forces fail, however, and are damned to an eternity of punishment. For a time though, they roam about in the universe aiming to disrupt the plans of the Jor-el.
Similarly, the Bible describes a metanarrative of other-worldly conflict where Lucifer—who was the highest ranking angel in God’s kingdom—desires total power like God and leads a war upon God’s establishment. Lucifer takes a 1/3 of the angels from heaven with him in this endeavor, and while they ultimately fail and are damned for eternity, they nonetheless strive to thwart and disrupt the plans of God. (Heb 12:22; Rev 12:3-9).
2. The name of Superman, Kal-El, is actually a Hebrew word, transliterated as “Voice of God”. Similarly, Jesus is referred to as “the Word of God” (Jn. 1; Heb. 1; Col. 1).
In addition, Jor-el also has spiritual meaning because “El” in Hebrew means “God”—however, I’m not going to act like I know anymore Hebrew than “El”, so I don’t know what ‘Jor’ means. I have seen in some sources that it refers to Jehovah, but in others, it was something different.
3. Furthermore, in the back-story of the conflict in Krypton—before Superman comes on the scene—Jor-el encodes the codex, which contains all possibility of life in the heavenly realms, into the blood of Kal-el, Superman.
Similarly, Christianity holds the same notion for life and salvation—that it is only found in the blood of the Son of God. (Lev. 17:11; Rom. 3:23-25, 5:9; Jn. 6:53-56; Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:7, 2:13; Col. 1:20; Heb. 10:19; 11:28, 12:24, 13:20; 1 Jn. 1:7).
4. Jor-el sent Kal-el to Earth knowing that humanity would reject him, but he did it anyway because it was the only way. In the same way, God sent Jesus to save the world all the while knowing that the world would nevertheless reject him. (Mt. 41:22; Mk. 8:31; Lk. 17:25; Jn. 1:10-11; 15:18-19)
5. Clark Kent waited until the “appointed time” to save the world, at which point he was 33 years old. Similarly, Jesus began proclaiming his lordship and saviorship when he was 30, but actually made atoning salvation for the world when he was 33. (Lk. 3:23)
6. Jor-el commissioned Kal-el to be the “bridge between two peoples”. In response, Kal-el agreed, stated “I will save them”, and then fell out of the space shuttle in the shape of a cross. Similarly, Jesus was commissioned by the Father to be the bridge between God and humanity—the mediator of heaven and earth—through the saving power of reconciliation by the cross. (Eph. 2:15-16; Rom. 5:11; 2 Co. 5:18-19)
7. Jor-el said that it was necessary for Kal-el to go to earth so that he could truly relate to humanity, knowing and experiencing their sufferings, as that would qualify him to be their adequate leader and savior. Similarly, Jesus was Son of Man and Son of God—both humanly and other-worldly—that he might be able to truly relate to us, knowing and experiencing our sufferings, so that he would be qualified as our perfect mediator, leader, and savior. (Heb. 2:9-14; 4:15-16)
8. When General Zod went to destroy Superman and Earth, he erected two giant, magnetic devices on opposite sides of the planet to pulsate a new atmospheric composition and level of gravity—fundamentally reversing the natural order of earth, and making it more like his own dark kingdom. In the same way, the curse of sin under Satan’s rule reverses the natural order of creation—making life morally corruptible and the cosmos inhospitably inhumane. (Gen. 1-3; Eph. 2; Mk. 2:15; Rev. 12:9)
9. The symbol on Superman’s chest “S” actually stands for ‘hope’ in his worldly context. Likewise, Jesus stands as the only hope for humanity, and the clearest picture of that hope is emblazoned on his stretched frame as he hung at the intersection of the cross, the final junction of justice and peace. (Eph. 2:13-16; Acts 4:12; Jn. 14:6; 1 Jn. 2:2)
10. At the end of the movie, an American general tells Superman that they cannot be sure they can trust him. Superman responds that he is one of them—born and raised alongside them—and that his rescuing of them proves he is for them. But ultimately, they must trust his authority over them is good by remembering his rescue of them was good.
In the same way, Jesus rules with all deserving authority, and we can trust that his authority over us is good because his rescue of us was good. Indeed, Jesus’ suffering for and rescuing of us proves He is for us—this enables us to humbly submit to his authority and know that it is good. (Col. 1:15-20, Mt. 28:18-20, Rom. 8:28-36)
11. Louis Lane, the famous news reporter, has no connection to Mary Magdalene. I asked the director about this, you can trust me, ha. But if anything, Louis Lane resembles the church, the bride of Christ, who is collectively called to participate in his mission byspreading the news of the saving work of Christ to the world. Christians are news reporters—not saviors.
The list of these eleven parallels, of course, is not exhaustive in the least. The movie teems with probably hundreds of examples. In fact, I heard that a theologian wrote a 9-page review of the director’s script about the theological parallels evident in the screenplay. Pretty crazy.
But most of all, I think it is important to note that certain types of stories resonate with all people for a reason—meaning, those feelings are not arbitrary, but hardwired in our DNA. The storyline of a universal problem and a universal conflict and a universal hero to conquer the evil and set things right can be observed in the most classic and popular works of all time—Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Narnia, etc to scratch the surface. And they are classics for a reason—they resonate with us in a particular way for somepeculiar reason—almost as if we sense deep down that there is a universal problem, universal conflict, and a universal longing for a universal savior.
Even seeing an underdog team pull out a win and triumph over the most incredible odds strikes an innate chord of joy somewhere deep in us—that’s what happens in the gospel, and I believe it was what we were designed for—to revel in the story of God’s victory for us, ransoming us from sin, Satan, and death. And every time we experience a story similar to the gospel here on earth, it gives us a sweet taste of that deeper, richer, and fuller story we were designed to know and are living in—one that surpasses the half-inch thickness of a screen, or the momentary ecstasy of a sports highlight.
Superman is a reflection of the gospel. Let his fictional story serve to tell a greater story—God’s.