Yes, you can!
For more than 75 years of comic book history and dozens of gigantic cinematic releases, Superheros have captivated our imagination--filling our senses with heart-pounding adventures, riveting plots, and spectacular special effects—and sometimes they have profound messages woven into them. Often the underlying themes reveal a Judeo-Christian influence, and even when it isn’t intentional, you can still draw deep lessons from them. Whether it’s the self-sacrifice and humility of Captain America and the Hulk’s struggles with anger or the parallels between Superman and Jesus or between Black Widow and a ruthless Bible heroine, your favorite heroes and heroines (and even villains) have much to teach.
If you’re a fan of this good vs. evil world, you will love The Superheroes Devotional—featuring 60 interesting, challenging, and encouraging readings. With devotions drawn from dozens of favorite superheroes from both the Marvel and DC Comics universes—well-known names like Captain America and Batman and lesser-known heroes like Shazam and Gambit—each reading includes spiritual lessons relating superheroes to the heroes of the Bible in themes like faith, hope, courage, pride, and power. You’ll also enjoy reading about the history and background of each superhero, shared by author and lifelong fan Ed Strauss.
Read on, True Believer, and may you draw inspiration and encouragement from the characters and stories that you know and love from comicbook pages and big screen movies alike.
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About the Author
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The Super-Heroes Devotional
60 Inspirational Readings
By Ed Strauss
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2017 Ed Strauss
All rights reserved.
1. GOD IN THE COMICBOOKS
Many people have noticed that God is hardly ever mentioned in comicbooks. There are reasons for this. During the late 1940S, many comicbooks were filled with horror and gratuitous violence. As a result, in the early 1950S American psychiatrist Fredric Wertham led a crusade against comics, arguing that they incited juvenile delinquency. This was during the height of McCarthyism (1950–1956), so in 1954 the US Senate held televised hearings on comics' contribution to youth crime. Although a link wasn't established, the damage to the comicbook industry was done, causing a near collapse.
The Senate urged publishers to establish strict guidelines, so that year the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was created. All comics had to pass the CCA'S censors to receive a stamp of approval. Among other things, the Code stated that "ridicule or attack on any religious ... group is never permissible," and instructed writers to respect all beliefs and religious institutions. Publishers usually played it safe by avoiding the subject altogether.
Another factor was that until 1962, American public schools began their days with a short Bible reading and by reciting the Lord's Prayer. Then in 1962–63, the Supreme Court banned public prayer and Bible-reading from schools. Producers of comics, still smarting from the anti-comicbook hysteria of the 1950s, took their cue and usually didn't even give passing mention to a superhero's faith or the existence of God — not that many of them had been inclined to promote overt Christian messages prior to this.
They did delve into ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Norse gods, because those religions had long been retired to the realms of mythology. There had already been a number of superheroes based on Greek and Roman gods, so the Norse god Thor, which first appeared in 1962, was readily accepted. Writers also felt free to discuss the occult; hence the 1963 debut of the magician Doctor Strange was well-received. However, living faiths such as Judaism and Christianity were usually passed over in silence.
Any time a being identifiable as the Judeo-Christian God was mentioned in the pages of a comicbook, you can be sure that it didn't happen without a great deal of thought. The writers had to really want to include it. As would be expected, the mentions were few and far between, but when assembled, they present a clear picture of the true God. This is especially true for Marvel comics. DC comics, while they depicted a being named "the Presence," have few unambiguous mentions.
In a 1968 issue of Fantastic Four, when her husband, Reed Richards, was in grave danger, Sue asks, "But what can he do ... against the all-powerful Silver Surfer?" A Watcher, an ancient, wise being named Uatu, responds, "All-powerful? There is only one who deserves that name. And His only weapon ... is love!" This is the best possible description of God, since, as the apostle John tells us, "God is love" (1 John 4:8 KJV).
In April 1976, Marvel gave God a title when it introduced an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Being called "the One-Above-All." He was more powerful and exalted than any entity or god in the entire Marvel universe. Even the Norse god of thunder, Thor, was in awe of Him, calling Him "the Creator of all Universes." The One-Above-All was responsible for the existence of all matter, energy, and life throughout every dimension.
At one point, a superhero named Adam Warlock told how he had been summoned to be judged by an entity called the Living Tribunal, who, great as he was, was "the servant of the One who is above even gods." Yes, in the Marvel universe, the one true God is above the Watchers, the Elders of the Universe, the Celestials, the Elder gods, the gods of Asgard, the Vishanti, the Cosmic Entities, and even the Living Tribunal.
Now, the Cosmic Entities are eternal beings who wield power on an unimaginably vast scale and who are an integral part of the space-time continuum, essential to the running of the physical universe. The greatest Cosmic Entity is an omnipresent being named Eternity. But during one encounter, Eternity tells Doctor Strange that he and his fellow Entity, Death, comprised all the reality Doctor Strange knows, but adds, "Neither he nor I are God, for God rules all realities!"
Around the turn of the twenty-first century, when the Comics Code became obsolete and the hesitation about mentioning Christianity relaxed, comicbook writers began drawing from its rich literature, lore, and symbols. This didn't mean the writers were Christians, though some were. But knowledge of Christianity still permeated Western society and people were familiar with its concepts. Thus, superheroes slowly began to be depicted praying to God, attending church, and fighting demons.
In the final analysis, we shouldn't criticize the comicbook industry too harshly for refraining from promoting belief in God. It's not their job to preach the Gospel. Jesus gave that task to us, His followers, and even many of us shy away from it. But it's great when comics at least give the one true God some long overdue recognition.CHAPTER 2
2. THE INFINITY STONES
A colossal supervillain and a single overarching theme have been a part of many Marvel movies since Iron Man in 2008. That villain is Thanos, the Dark Lord — who featured prominently in Guardians of the Galaxy and briefly in Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron — and the theme is his relentless quest to possess the six Infinity Stones, also called Infinity Gems. The entire Marvel Universe is rushing toward the cataclysmic climax of this quest in the Infinity War movies of 2018 and 2019.
Thanos is a powerful cosmic warlord who reigns over an immense star-region and commands aliens called the Chitauri. In Avengers he allies with Loki to get the Space Stone, and in Guardians of the Galaxy he sends Ronan the Accuser to seize the Power Stone. Thanos wishes to woo a cosmic entity named Mistress Death, and to do this he needs the Infinity Stones. (Thanos' own name is likely derived from Thanatos, a Greek god of death.)
There are six Infinity Stones. The Soul Gem enables its owner to steal souls; whoever masters it can control all life in the universe. The Time Gem grants control over the past, present, and future, and can bequeath omniscience. The Space Gem lets its user exist everywhere at once; it can grant omnipresence. The Mind Gem enhances one's mental powers, enabling that person to access the thoughts of others. The Reality Gem lets people fulfill all their wishes, even if those wishes contradict the laws of science. The Power Gem taps into all energy in existence and increases the power of the other gems; it grants near-omnipotence. Whoever possesses all six stones becomes all-powerful, all-present, and all-knowing. These are the qualities of God Himself.
Unfortunately for Thanos, when he loans the Mind Stone to Loki to help seize the more potent Space Stone, Loki loses both stones. The Mind Stone ends up on the superhero Vision's forehead, and the Space Stone is put under guard in Asgard. And Ronan fails in his task to gain the Power Stone; it ends up in safekeeping on the planet Xandar. This is why Thanos finally says, "Fine, I'll do it myself."
Where did the six Infinity Stones come from? As Taneleer Tivan, the archivist called the Collector, explains, "Before creation itself, there were six singularities, then the universe exploded into existence and the remnants of this system were forged into concentrated ingots ... Infinity Stones." This forging was done by the Cosmic Entities, eternal beings who wield power on an unimaginably vast scale.
In Marvel's comic series The Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos succeeds in collecting all six Stones and mounting them on his gauntlet — and this is likely how things will unfold in the movies. In the comics, once Thanos places the Gauntlet on his hand, making him omnipotent, he fulfills Mistress Death's wish by killing half the living beings in the universe. Ultimately, Thanos is defeated because, after achieving godlike power, he abandons his physical body to become one with the universe. At that point, his granddaughter Nebula pulls the Gauntlet from his physical hand, puts it on and undoes his massacre.
In his desire to be like God, in his love for death, and in his desire to slaughter half a universe full of sentient beings, Thanos showed himself to be like Satan, "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4 NKJV) ... "him who had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14 NKJV). There is already a demon in the Marvel Universe named Lucifer, but Thanos also matches the Scriptures' description well.
Isaiah declared, "How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! ... For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God ... I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High'" (Isaiah 14:12–14 NKJV). Ezekiel added, "You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz, and diamond, beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. ... And you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God" (Ezekiel 28:13–14, 16 NKJV).
The devil may have been intent on being God, but the Lord stopped him short and cast him out of heaven. And even though the evil one is still trying to bring death upon all humanity, Jesus, the Son of God, constantly thwarts his plan by saving lost souls.
In the end, there is only one Stone worth seeking and that's the one who gives eternal life. Jesus is "the stone which the builders rejected," but who "has become the chief cornerstone" (Matthew 21:42 NKJV). Plus, Jesus said, "the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matthew 13:45–46 NKJV). Have you found this stone?CHAPTER 3
3. BEING EXTRAORDINARY
Captain America is one of the most famous comicbook superheroes — and one of the oldest. His career began in 1941, during an age of heroes when millions of Americans were called to war against the Axis powers, the Nazis and their allies, a great evil that threatened to engulf the world. Captain America (Steve Rogers) was the embodiment of a hero: courageous, patriotic, and self-sacrificial. An old-fashioned idealist with a wholesome Boy Scout moral outlook, he often appears out of step with modern society.
As the Second World War is raging, Steve Rogers wants to join the fight but is repeatedly rejected at enlistment centers because he is so short and scrawny. Then he catches the attention of Dr. Erskine, a scientist planning to conduct a super-soldier experiment, which involves injecting someone with a unique serum and exposing him to "vita-rays."
Colonel Phillips doesn't think Steve is the right man for the test, and he recommends a certain Private Hodge as the ideal soldier. But Dr. Erskine says, "I am looking for qualities beyond the physical." Colonel Phillips unwittingly proves Erskine's point when he tosses a dummy grenade among some soldiers. To his surprise, while everyone else scatters, Steve, weak though he is, rushes forward and throws himself on the grenade to protect others.
Iron Man later quips that Steve Rogers is a laboratory experiment and that everything special about him comes out of a bottle. But that wasn't true. Steve Rogers was special before he became powerful. He had great courage and a strong moral center long before his physical transformation.
After Steve comes out of the experiment taller and superbly muscled, a German assassin kills Erskine. The assassin then avoids interrogation by committing suicide with a cyanide capsule. Unfortunately, Erskine's blueprint for creating an army of super-soldiers dies with him, so Steve is the first and only one. He becomes known as Captain America and is often affectionately called "Cap." He goes on to do great exploits against the Nazis, particularly Hydra, their Deep Science Division.
Captain America's story is reminiscent of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11: "Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle" (Hebrews 11:34 NLT). They were powerful in battle, but even more importantly, God saw to it that they were "strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Ephesians 3:16 KJV).
Just as Dr. Erskine didn't want Private Hodge, God doesn't always want men with muscles to do His work. God delights in using the weak and the incapable to accomplish great things, and He often refuses to use the powerful, the proud, and the self-confident. Scripture says, "God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:27 NKJV).
When God looks for someone to accomplish something extraordinary, He first examines the heart. His reasons are simple. He not only needs us to trust in Him to work through us, but He knows that solid moral character alone is a strong enough framework upon which He can build greatness. Dr. Erskine explained to Steve that the serum amplified all his qualities, so that good became great and bad became worse. This was why he was chosen.
Even after Captain America became a living legend, he didn't let it go to his head. He knew the feats he was now capable of, but he didn't have an exaggerated sense of self-confidence. So when Red Skull asks him what makes him so special, Cap replies, "Nothing. I'm just a kid from Brooklyn." In saying this, he was speaking for the millions of ordinary people who, although they were nothing special on their own, became great in serving God and their country. Only people who realize that greatness comes from God can be used to accomplish great things.
Jeremiah prophesied, "Let not the mighty man glory in his might ... But let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD" (Jeremiah 9:23–24 NKJV). Captain America was definitely a dedicated believer. He is Marvel's most outspoken Christian. When Natasha (Black Widow) refers to Thor and Loki as "gods," Cap gives his now-famous answer: "There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that." And, as Thor pointed out, Cap went to church every Sunday.
Not surprisingly, a number of individuals didn't like what Captain America stood for. The arch-villain Ultron mockingly referred to him as "God's righteous man." And Loki, after transforming himself into a copy of Cap, said sarcastically, "I can feel the righteousness surging."
Despite his critics, Captain America's moral strength, courage, self-sacrificial spirit, and strong Christian faith continued to define who he was through the years. They were what made him a true hero. And these attributes can make you a hero, too — a man or woman who can do not just heroic deeds that make headlines, but the quiet, unnoticed deeds of daily self-sacrifice that are the mark of every true champion.CHAPTER 4
4. THE REJECTED HERO
Spider-Man is Marvel's most iconic superhero. Yet when editor Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko created the Wall Crawler in 1962, they knew they were going against people's expectations. A superhero who had continual money problems? Who wasn't able to get a date? Who had an elderly aunt doting over him? Besides, back then teenagers weren't superheroes. They were sidekicks of the real heroes. You know, like Robin to Batman.
For these very reasons, however, teens identified with Peter Parker. In the comics, and in the movies by Sam Raimi, Peter is the ultimate nerd — off the charts intelligent but weak, filled with feelings of inadequacy, plagued by loneliness, and excluded by the popular crowd. Many Spider-Man fans were delighted at how well actor Tobey Maguire captured the real Peter Parker.
Compounding his feelings of isolation, Peter is an orphan, having been taken in by his uncle Ben and aunt May after his parents died. However, as Peter grows older, he has all the desires of a normal teenager: he wants to be accepted and appreciated; he wants to love and be loved. He is, in fact, enamored with a beautiful classmate, MJ (Mary Jane Watson). But she is the girlfriend of Flash Thompson, the school's top athlete and Peter knows he can't compete.
Then everything changes. In the movie version, while visiting a science display, Peter is bitten by a genetically altered spider. Soon he finds that his body is rippling with muscles and that he has astonishing new powers — so much so that he defeats Flash in a cafeteria fight. But Flash still wows Mary Jane with his new car, so Peter enters a wrestling match to win the $3,000 prize, buy a car, and impress MJ.
Peter's uncle Ben cautions him that having the power to defeat his opponents isn't enough, but that "with great power comes great responsibility." Peter rejects this advice and after he wins the wrestling match, the promoter gives him $100, not $3,000. Peter is so upset that when the promoter is robbed moments later, he refuses to stop the thief.
Excerpted from The Super-Heroes Devotional by Ed Strauss. Copyright © 2017 Ed Strauss. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction: Tale of a True Believer,
1. God in the Comicbooks,
2. The Infinity Stones,
3. Being Extraordinary,
4. The Rejected Hero,
5. Our Incredible Armor,
6. Calming the Monster,
7. Legends of Gods,
8. Heroes and Moral Relativism,
9. Avengers and Defenders,
10. Going It Alone,
11. Hitting the Mark,
12. The Hydra Conspiracy,
13. Rising up with Wings,
14. The Day of Small Things,
15. Who Is Worthy?,
16. Living in a Hostile World,
17. Removing All Restraint,
18. Power at Your Command,
19. A Savage Antihero,
20. Blending In,
21. Escaping in a Heartbeat,
22. The Mark of the Beast,
23. Superheroes or Vigilantes?,
24. The Power of Forgiveness,
25. Wisdom Versus Strength,
26. Things Visible and Invisible,
27. Hot Heads and Pride,
28. It's Clobbering Time,
29. A Tender Conscience,
30. Seeing Things Differently,
31. The Great Power of God,
32. Undoing Past Mistakes,
33. An Imperfect Messiah,
34. Overwhelmed by the World,
35. Winners and Losers,
36. Rising to the Occasion,
37. Respect for Divine Power,
38. Super but No Hero,
39. Seeking Revenge,
40. Attitudes and Prayer,
41. Beware What You Think,
42. Deadly Theology,
43. Disunity and Civil War,
44. Immortal Warriors,
45. Above This Dark World,
46. Defying the Devil,
47. False Gods and Christs,
48. Overcoming Demons,
49. Programming and Compassion,
50. On Earth for a Reason,
51. Overcoming Fear,
52. Amazons of God,
53. Running the Race,
54. Decent Men in an Indecent Time,
55. Beauty Is Skin Deep,
56. A Chosen Ringbearer,
57. Strength to Overcome,
58. Emulating the Best,
59. Hope and Justice,
60. Are You a True Believer?,