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.
When I was a child, there was a series of books that were very popular among students my age. As one began reading through the books, they were inevitably faced with choices that would alter the stories’ outcomes. As the reader made decisions, the conflicts and conclusions within the books were altered. Upon each read through, the adventures changed and the endings differed. We were left with “Choose Your Own Adventures” that were as good (or bad) as the decisions we made, and at the end of each book, we were left with our own chosen path — our own chosen reality.
The Silver Surfer and his love interest Dawn Greenwood face the dilemma of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story in Silver Surfer #15. As Marvel (finally!) brings the “Secret Wars” saga to a conclusion, it needs to tie up a few loose ends around the different franchises. Dawn and the Surfer have been busy building an entirely new universe: she has been rebuilding Earth and he the cosmos. However, in the process of creating the heavens and earth, they have made mistakes and errors that are causing disarray in the new universe. Unbeknownst to Dawn, this will mean choosing between a duplicate of the Silver Surfer that she has created and the real Silver Surfer who is perfecting his part of the new universe.The pursuit of holiness in our everyday lives is thwarted because we identify ourselves by our sins.
This choice, in miniature, sets up the rest of the book’s drama. Dawn is confronted with choosing between universes. In the new universe, she has created “perfect” versions of Earth and the Silver Surfer, and has wiped away all the pain of her past. Similarly, the Surfer has rebuilt old worlds destroyed and removed the stain of Galactus’ destruction. However, the old universe contains the reality of all those pains, plus an unknown future and fate. So a decision has to be made: choose a universe crafted by their own hands or a universe in which they are amidst the unknown. Eventually, Dawn comes to realize that the new world is “[M]ake-believe. Daydreams. All of your would-haves and should-haves… They’re regrets. We don’t get to choose different pasts. What you do get to choose is the future — the person you want to be.”
This statement gets at the heart of discipleship in the life of a Christian. For so many followers of Jesus, our progress and growth is stalled because we’ve allowed ourselves to be defined by our past. Be it our past sins, sins committed against us, or merely the tragedies of this fallen world, we allow the future to be dictated by failures in the past. The pursuit of holiness in our everyday lives is thwarted because we identify ourselves by our sins. We cry out, “I am who I was,” and this keeps us from becoming who we were meant to be. Like the new universe that Dawn and the Silver Surfer created, our universe becomes defined by who and what we were.
However, Jesus paints discipleship in a different light. We are called, based on a new identity, to become who we are. Instead of sticking with the customary “master/servant” relationship of a rabbi with his disciples, Jesus reinvents the relationship by calling his disciples “friends” (John 15:13-15). He gives his Holy Spirit to us and through him, adopts us as children of God (Romans 8:14-17). He removes the stains of our past and washes us in the newness of life and identifies us as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (Colossians 3:12). No longer are we identified by our past; instead, we’re called “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18–19). Discipleship is waking up to a universe of God-present reality and to explore what it means to be children of God who have been taken out of the depths of death and, through the cross and resurrection of Christ, brought into a new universe full of unending possibilities of growth for us.
So many of us struggle with growing holiness because we’ve been defined by the past. We read 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and find ourselves listed among the unrighteous who “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” We believe those sins define our past and certainly our future. But we fail to read the next verse about our future: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Such were we but we were washed, sanctified, and justified in Christ. Our future is incredibly bright and open because of Christ’s transformative power.
We may not be able to ultimately “choose our own adventure” with regards to many things in life. There’s much that stands outside our grasp. But for the Christian, the reality of a future life of pleasing Christ, of growing beyond our sinful identities and into holiness is attainable. A new world of our own making is just what Dawn says it is: daydreams and regrets. The future that Christ has made for us, though, is one of becoming, step by step, the people we have been re-created to be: holy and blameless children.