Every Friday in Panel Discussion, Jeremy Writebol considers how the latest comic book releases intersect with the Good News of Christ. This piece may contain spoilers.
So Augustine, Pelagius, and The Green Lantern walk into a bar… one by decree, one by his own choice, and one because the artist drew him that way. Seriously though, Justice League: The Darkseid War – Green Lantern #1 tackles one of Christian theology’s deepest debates: exactly what is the nature of the human will?
The Justice League series, as of late, has featured the team’s greatest fight against one of their greatest foes, Darkseid. They’ve finally killed him this time but residual effects are running through the DC universe, with the greatest being that several League members have become gods (in the sense that they now possess the totality of one specific attribute of God). Batman has become all-knowing, Superman has become all-powerful, and The Green Lantern is faced with a huge choice: become the god of light, or die.
Within that scenario, writer Tom King explores the relationship between God’s decree and the nature of human will. The dilemma itself is formed as Green Lantern Hal Jordan leaves the Darkseid conflict to return to Oa, the Green Lantern Corps’ home planet. He’s brought there by a distress call from another Corps member, telling him that Darkseid’s parademon army has conquered Oa. With Darkseid dead, the army is looking for a new power source and a new master to lead them. Each member of the Corps has been beaten and offered the choice to become God, and each has denied it, resulting in their death. Hal Jordan is the last Lantern, the last one alive to save Oa.I believe that the only hope and light for our broken and hurting world is the God who does whatever he wants.
As Jordan faces the onslaught of the parademon attack on Oa, he flashes back to his childhood shortly after the tragic death of his father in a plane crash. His mother has sent him to the local Catholic church to light a candle in his father’s memory. There, this relationship between God’s will and man’s will is exposed.
The young Jordan is processing his father’s untimely death and the apparent indifference of God to save his father. He asks, “Isn’t that what God’s supposed to do? Catch you when you fall?” In many ways this is a fair question for mourners. The Psalmist himself asked, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1, ESV).
As we’ve watched the horror of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the violence against our fellow humanity, one can be challenged to ask that very question: What is God doing? Is sitting in heaven and watching these atrocities be carried out the best he can do? If we’re not tuned to the word of God, our answer to that question will probably sound more like the counsel the grieving Jordan is given than what Jesus himself taught.
In Jordan’s flashback, a mysterious stranger seeks to console and direct the young, grieving boy. That stranger, however, is more than just an anonymous visitor who happens to be in the church at the same time. The choice this issue initially confronted the Green Lantern with — to become the god of light or die — is played out. As Jordan accepts the role of deity he has been offered, even against the mandate he has as a Green Lantern, he is given omniscient, omnipotent, transcendent power. And in becoming a god, Jordan forms a theology of himself that makes him a very limited deity.
To Hal Jordan-as-god of light, God is the one who is hindered and constrained, stuck in the necessity of his own decree. “Everything he does, it’s all necessary,” the “Hal-god” explains to his younger free self. “It has to be. He has to be who he is. He has to do what he does.” Human beings are the ones who are truly free. We possess an absolute and unbridled will to do whatever we like. Because we possess the free will that God does not — according to the Green Lantern, that is — “God comes into church to worship us.”
Yet this view isn’t the view of God that the Scriptures declare. If anything, this sort of talk is blasphemy. God is the one who holds the “free will” to do all that he pleases and we are the ones with the will that is bent and in bondage to sin. In Psalm 115:3, the Bible states that “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (emphasis mine), while Isaiah 45:9 asks “Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?” Apart from God’s liberating grace, our will is always bent towards unrighteousness.
Although we may not see it or perceive its effects, without the free will and power of God we are stuck every time we see our world’s evil on display. If human will is ultimate and free, then we should, by our own power, be independent enough to fix and solve our world’s problems. We should be able to stop the terror, crime, and mass murder in our universe. And yet, even with our modern progress, diplomacy, and technologies, we still haven’t been able to fix the problem.
Yet if the God described in the Bible is the one who is able to work through and overcome our will, then he is the one who is able to overcome the way our will is in bondage to sin. If every human is ensnared by deep brokenness and unrighteousness, then only one with a will greater and more liberated than ours can release us. With a bound will we will only ever hate, hurt, slander, malign, murder, and destroy. Why? Because our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
This is where real hope in the midst of great tragedies and horrors is found. I can’t say to you that I understand fully or know God’s mind on why the events in Paris were permitted to occur. Left to ourselves, I despair of any hope to fix those things or to see justice done. The grandstanding rhetoric for and against immigrants in our country following the aftermath of this tragedy is further proof to me that we can’t fix the problems. However, if God is truly God — meaning that he is holy, perfect, just, and merciful — then everything that he does will be fitting with his nature and it will be good. He will have the last word in bringing to justice those who have murdered, and he will pour out his mercy on those poor in spirit who are hungering and thirsting after him.
Whereas the Green Lantern proclaims, “Gods do not have will,” I believe that the only hope and light for our broken and hurting world is the God who does whatever he wants and in so doing, submitted himself to death on a cross in order to liberate a world in bondage.