Superman on Trial:  A Question of Injustice (Matthew 5, Romans 5, Genesis 4)

With Injustice 2 now out on store shelves I think it should be considered safe to open up the plot on the first game and how it intersects with this newly released fighting masterpiece.    And there are some intriguing and highly resonating questions that are presented in both of these games that do not have easy answers.  As a warning, spoilers for the original Injustice as well as a healthy dose of Biblical introspection follow…

Let me start by admitting that I am personally not Superman’s biggest fan.  Nothing against those of you whose heart swells every time you hear his theme music, but for me everything just seems to come a little too easy for the son of Krypton.  He lacks both the pathos of Batman as well as the humanity of the Flash.  Lois Lane dies?  No problem, he just flies around the sun, reverses time and course-corrects.  When Flash does something similar he nearly destroys the multiverse by creating Flashpoint, but for Superman it’s just business as usual on a moderately busy Tuesday.  And while Batman toils in the shadows doing the dirty work without a single superpower to his name, good ol’ Supes flies around with his bulletproof self enjoying the benefits of super-human strength without too many drawbacks.  So when the original Injustice title released it wasn’t much of a surprise to me that when he was finally faced with an unthinkable loss he became a violent global dictator.  Honestly, it was what I had worried was inside of him all along.

If absolute power corrupts absolutely, than Superman completely lived up to this mantra by turning on all those who disagreed with his tactics as he made the decision to prevent any further evil by taking complete control of the planet and destroying all those who stood in his way.  Heroes such as Flash and Batman tried to guide him away from this self-destructive course, but honestly how do you stop an emotionally damaged, nearly invulnerable alien who is convinced that humanity lacks the capacity to chart their own course and must either accept his rule or perish?  A combination of heroes,  villains, and a Superman from another universe are forced to put aside their grievances and work together to finally end the tyrannical rule of Kal-El.  This leads directly into the new story in Injustice 2 as Batman and company face an incredible difficult choice… when faced with an unstoppable threat do they unleash Earth’s mightiest hero knowing that they were barely able to subdue him the first time?  Or do they attempt to face this new threat and leave their greatest hope of victory on the sidelines?  Decisions, decisions… and this leads us into deeper pondering of more eternal significance.

One of the most poignant questions asked by those who have difficulty believing in God is, “If God is all-powerful, why does he permit evil exist?”  Why is there so much pain and suffering, death and loss when a good and just God could stop it all with just a word?  And I believe that within this question one has to take a long hard look and determine what manner of Divine Being we truly believe in so we can have a fair answer to these questions.  When children senselessly die in our streets and so many people of all ages face the threat of violence simply because of their beliefs, skin color, or place of birth it is a question we MUST be prepared to answer as followers of the one true God.

Let’s start by considering what someone is really asking when they challenge the reality and goodness of God by pointing to the bad that surrounds us.  To live up to the unstated inference, anytime someone asks this question they are requesting a dictator god similar to what Superman became in Injustice.  Crushing all evil sounds good in theory, but in order to fully suppress it one must control all thoughts, actions, and decisions of those who are incapable of making the right decisions on their own… meaning US.  The only way to remove our ability to make evil choices is to remove our ability to make choices at all.  And to be blunt, that would not work too well for any of us and would make God a pretty difficult Being to follow, much less love.

Time to look to the Bible for answers on how a just God permits injustice to exist.  First, we will divide the question into three parts:

1) How does Scripture define justice?

2) Why does injustice exist?

3) Why doesn’t God stop it?

To start with, let’s find what God has to say about the evil things people do to each other.  And before you crack your Bible open to the Old Testament and prepare for a boring discussion on old commandments and laws and how far away you have to walk from bacon-wrapped shrimp, let me stop you right there and bring you to a much more relevant group of verses straight from the tongue of Jesus Christ Himself.  In Matthew 5:21 we find Jesus in the middle of the discourse called the Sermon on the Mount, and it is within this we gain full insight into how God views sin and what an absolutist view of sin prevention actually looks like.

Jesus uses two distinct and very different sins from the Ten Commandments to give a God’s-eye view perspective of right and wrong.  First, He unveils God’s position on murder, issuing equivalent judgement to those who speak hurtful insults to others with hatred in their heart to those who actually follow through on the evil thought with murder.  Then He follows with an example of someone who looks at another person with lustful desire, explaining that this conscious act carries the same consequences as physically committing the act of adultery.  And if that doesn’t challenge you enough, he finishes by explaining that if your eye or hand causes you to sin, it is wiser to remove it from your body than to persist in sinning and face the judgement for those sins.  Interestingly enough, I don’t bump into too many people who have removed their hands and eyes.  They must not struggle with the same things I do, I guess.

So when we look at justice from a Holy God’s perspective it becomes painfully clear that we are all guilty of not only physical sins, but also sins of thought that carry equivalent sentences of punishment.  If we faced the consequences of these actions (both were punishable by death) at the point of our sinful thoughts humanity would cease to exist in short order.  The truth is we all want justice when we or a party we consider innocent have been wronged, but for justice to truly be served we would all face the exact same fate.  Scripture records that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and more to the point based on these parameters we are all guilty of thought crimes punishable by the death penalty.  So to answer the first question, justice is defined as punishment for even the thought of committing sinful behavior.  I don’t know about you, but I’m going to cast my vote on mercy and grace because if we stick with justice as the cure I won’t be here to finish writing this.  Or at the very least it would be much, much harder without my hands and eyes.

So let’s move on to question 2.  Now that we know none of us are truly prepared to exist in a world of immediate justice based on God’s standards, why does this predicament exist to begin with?  The birth of original sin is recorded in Genesis, but I would like to look a little deeper than the origin story by going to Romans 5:12-21, where something very critical emerges.  In these verses as well as several others it is made clear that it is through Adam’s sin that death entered the world.  Punishment that previously did not exist was created as a just response to the sin that occurred.  But why Adam’s sin?  Why was it his mistake that caused this when it was Eve, not Adam, who took the first bite of the forbidden fruit?  The Injustice plot thickens…

What was the principal difference between what Eve did and what Adam did?  One could make all manner of theological arguments based on Adam’s role as the first member of mankind or his status as head of household on their tax return that year, but the truth is they both took the exact same action.  They both held the same fruit and took the same bite.. so why the difference?  And Scripture is quick to point out that while Eve was deceived by the serpent, Adam had the luxury of observing that Eve did not suddenly drop dead at the moment of her sin and made his decision accordingly.

It is crucial we catch this because it is the answer to the question of why injustice still exists… Adam sinned by eating the fruit, but it was a conscious choice he made after determining that the consequences of the sin did not appear to be fatal.  Just like Adam, we sin because we think we can get away with it.  The consequences are not immediate in most cases so for a brief period of time we can make the wrong choice and continue on about our day, covering it up about as effectively as the fig leaves from Adam and Eve’s new fashion line.

Injustice at every level exists because God’s mercy in allowing us the opportunity to recognize our sins and repent prior to judgment is often misread as a lack of consequences.  And as humanity becomes ever more clever in our methods of hiding from our mistakes and covering up our shame, we mentally divorce ourselves even further from the actual long-term ramifications of wrong-doing.  So now that we know that we God’s standards for justice are actually much higher than we are prepared to operate under and we as humans are solely responsible for the presence of injustice on this planet we have to answer the final question.  Why doesn’t God stop it?

For our final Scripture we turn to 2 Peter 3:4-9, as we pull back the curtain on why God doesn’t do more to stop the injustice in the world.  Now while these verses are specifically referring to why the Lord has not yet returned to complete His judgment of the world, they also give insight into why the Lord appears to hold back His hand when He could just as easily unleash His giant fist of justice on evildoers.  Peter records that “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  In order to give each and every one of His children the opportunity to repent He stays His hand to a degree that makes many of us uncomfortable and as frustrated as the older brother of the prodigal son.  You remember him right?  The one who was frustrated that his younger brother had taken his inheritance and wasted it on a sinful life, and yet his father welcomed him back home with open arms upon his repentance.  The older brother fumed and refused to join the party because he wanted his younger brother to pay for his choices and this simply wasn’t fair.  But God values each and every one of His children, as hard as it is to believe.  He loves those who have committed even the vilest of sins and is giving them every opportunity to get their lives right with Him.

As our final case study we will jump all the way back to the book of Genesis as our Injustice tour of Scripture comes full circle.  We reviewed the original sin committed by Adam and Eve, and now we will go straight to the crime scene of the first murder committed by their son Cain.  In Genesis 4:6 we find God attempting to reason with Cain, who is upset that his brother’s offering to the Lord was accepted while Cain’s was not.  Like most of us, Cain is pointing his anger and frustration outward (in this case at his completely innocent younger brother) rather than dealing with the root cause issue in his heart with God.  And we find that rather than condemning Cain, the Lord is incredible reasonable in His dialogue stating. ”  Why are you so angry?  And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And it’s desire is for you, but you should rule over it”.  There is a lot to unpack there, but for today we will simply look at how patient and long-suffering God is with Cain who is currently mulling actual MURDER in his thoughts.

God, who knows all things, knew what Cain was thinking and knew what he was planning to do.  God could have stopped him.  He could have struck him down before he even had the chance to commit the act like an evil dictator Superman.  He could have waited until Cain was in the act and THEN he could swoop in with a Divine force field and save Abel’s life.  But He didn’t stop it… He allowed Cain the opportunity to choose the right choice all the way up to the end, and then after the horrible deed was done He approached Cain and gave him the opportunity to tell the truth about what had happened and to repent.  This remains the Father’s modus operandi with each of us… He chooses not to remove our free will in making choices and even provides a space for us to repent and own up to our choices.

It is easy to accept His mercy when it is showered upon me, and I appreciate that He has chosen not to slap the death sentence on me each and every time I have deserved it either through sins of action or sins of thought.  But I also must accept that He extends that grace to those that I would rather He not, because they are His children too.  The Lord does not support Injustice, but He has made the decision that His children will be free to serve Him, themselves, others, or the devil if they so choose.  And His patience with each child extends much farther than we would often prefer.  If we were God we would have spared the righteous Abel by stopping the murderous Cain in his tracks.  But that is why it is good that we are not God, because our justice is biased by the sins we understand or find more acceptable than others.  By that logic all of us would already be in our graves to prevent us from committing the sins that each of us have.  God sent His Son to a world populated by sinners so that we would not perish, but so that like the thief on the cross next to Christ we would inherit eternal life, even if it comes in our final breaths.  It may not seem fair, but God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.  And His justice is much higher than our thoughts can understand because His love for us is deeper than any of us can truly comprehend.

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