Two recording artists in different generations capture the cry of humanity: I need a hero. Bonnie Tyler swept the hearts of Canadians, Brits, and Americans with her Footloose favorite, “Holding Out for a Hero” in 1984. We don’t want just any hero, but one “larger than life…it’s gonna take a Superman to sweep me off my feet.”
Philosophically suave readers hear “Superman” and think less DC Comics and more Frederich Nietzsche. Nietzsche believed that a godless universe calls for independent strongmen (and strong-women) that will chart their own course. Beware the voices of the majority if you want to be Superman; be ready to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. Over 100 years since Nietzsche, various candidates for such attitudes and behavior mark the who’s who of who not to be—Adolph Hitler topping the list. And yet, one cannot easily dismiss Nietzche’s insight; we will seek a Superman in heaven, but if “God is dead,” then we’re left with our comics or fellow humans on the earth.
Enter our second songwriter, Jon Guerra. Guerra penned “Citizens,” in 2020. It’s one part poem, one part lament. In a provocative stanza, Guerra writes:
Killed by a common consensus
Everyone screaming “Barabbas”
Trading their God for a hero
Forfeiting Heaven for Rome
Guerra interprets one of the more disturbing scenes at the close of the Christian gospels. Why would the 1st century Jerusalem crowd ask for Barabbas, the insurrectionist, over Jesus of Nazareth, the possible Christ? Guerra knows. We want a hero. At least Barabbas did something. At least Barabbas threw a punch against the wrong party ruling our lives right now. If Jesus is going to just keep silent and die, to hell with him. We’ll take Barabbas.
America wants a hero. You want a hero. I want a hero. The question remains, “What sort of hero do you need?”
Guerra hints at better answers in his closing two stanzas:
Is there a way to love always?
Living in enemy hallways
Don’t know my foes from my friends and
Don’t know my friends anymore
Power has several prizes
Handcuffs can come in all sizes
Love has a million disguises
But winning is simply not one
It’s hard to win at all costs and take the way of love. I guess that’s why without the eyes of faith Jesus is the epic loser. He lost; he lost big time…so too, His martyrs, peacemakers, mourners and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Stephen failed to persuade the mob, and died in a pile of stones. The Apostle Paul lost his head; he didn’t win any election. I can hear a modern strongman finding epithets for such men: “Loser. Moron. Idiot.”
The more I look at America, and the Christians who happen to live there (though their primary citizenship is in heaven, cf. Philippians 3:20), the more I wonder what kind of hero they seek and follow. I suspect the way of love might not impact the ballot box at all. I suspect civility will be less click-bait than hate. Christians might actually suffer, take it on the chin, and not experience any redemption until the Lion-Lamb returns. And remember, Jesus’ distinction between sheep and the goats has nothing to do with votes, popularity, or earthly success. It’s in little acts of love, to forgettable people, in settings that won’t be taped by a CNN or Fox News crew (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).
Up where the mountains meet the heavens above
Out where the lightning splits the sea
I could swear that there’s someone somewhere watching me
Through the wind and the chill and the rain
And the storm and the flood
I can feel his approach like a fire in my blood.
Bonnie Tyler got something right, but I don’t think she knew who was coming and the kind of people He plans to receive.