Knowing a hero’s backstory tells you not only how they got to be heroes, but what motivates them to do what they do. It helps to know that Bruce Wayne lost his parents & fell down an old well, inspiring him to become Batman, or that Superman is actually an alien from another planet. Spiderman Homecoming represents the third series of movies portraying the web-slinging superhero released since 2002. By now, you’re likely familiar with Spiderman’s origin story: Peter Parker, an awkward teenager, was bitten by a radioactive spider, and woke up with his superpowers. Because he comes from humble beginnings, Spiderman always has a soft spot for those who are weak and vulnerable (although he does enjoy kicking butt alongside the Avengers from time to time.)
The fact is that we, too, each come with our own origin stories. Each of us is born into a family and circumstances beyond our control, and our lived experiences (moving, illnesses, divorce, etc) also represent who we are and what motivates us.
What’s true for superheroes and for each of us is also true for what we believe: our faith also has an origin story. More than one, actually. Quite often we look to the opening chapters from the book of Genesis to find three parts of our origin story: 1) the seven days of creation found in Genesis 1; 2) the story of Adam, Adam’s rib, and Eve as the masterpiece of all creation found Genesis 2; and 3) the whole serpent-fruit incident found in Genesis 3. On the one hand, we’re right to do so, because each of these stories enlighten us on where it is that we’ve come from. We learn from these stories both that God didn’t create us by accident and that we are part of an ordered ‘whole’ of the universe around us. We learn a little about what we are and are not for – a reality which becomes clearer once Jesus comes along. It helps introduce basic answers to the questions of evil and dying as being a consequence of our sin (but not a part of God’s original plan for us.)
Ultimately, these early chapters help set the stage for a more definitive Christian creation story – a story which is is actually found in the New Testament, at the beginning of the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. -John 1:1-5
This passage not only echoes the first words of Genesis (“In the beginning…”) – it also later answers the reason why we are here: to become children of God (John 1:18). It, too, acknowledges the reality of evil in our lives – but looks further. There are evils we experience which do not appear to be the direct result of human sin (natural disasters, illnesses, etc) – but here the answer is different. Instead of doing explaining why these evils exist (as was the case in Genesis 3), we are instead given a basic reminder that although there is darkness in the world, the light will always endure. It’s as simple and clear a message of hope as we could ask for.
While the Bible’s origin story isn’t as cut and dry as you might find in a comic book or a Hollywood movie, reading what scripture has to offer on how we got to be here and why we do what we do – looking to Genesis and to John – helps us even more to understand the story we are living. And it’s perhaps here that we can look to the words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – Pope Benedict XVI – when he was reflecting on our origin stories:
Holy Scripture in its entirety was not written from beginning to end like a novel or a textbook… (the Bible is) the story of God’s struggle with human beings to make Himself understandable to them over the course of time, but it is also the story of their struggle to seize hold of God over the course of time.
(This is the first part of a Bible study I’m hosting with students at St. Peter the Apostle CHS in Spruce Grove during the 2017-18 school year.)