I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:16-19)
A popular screenwriter on the Avengers movies was asked recently why superhero movies had become such a phenomenon in recent years. His answer was vague. People like a struggle for good and evil, he surmised, what he calls “myth-making,” and admitted he didn't have a smarter answer than that. I think that's only part of what's happening. Something much more basic is at work, and it's not the same thing as westerns from the 50s and 60s. It's rooted in a desire we all have, which is to be something more than we are. Something not limited by the challenges we face. It is to have the power to find victory against everything that goes wrong in life.
Superheroes have that power. They are ordinary, flawed people who overcome evil by a means which is superhuman. They are immortal and unbeatable. They are people we identify with, and wish we could become. I don't think the desire is cultural, I think it's the same for everyone in all times. We want it because we recognize that we are not powerful, in and of ourselves. A few may adopt the illusion of power through political office, physical strength or wealth, but even that misconception is stripped away when we have medical problems or lose people we love.
There is nothing wrong with the desire to have victory over evil. We were created with that desire. We were created with the need to be more than we are, to experience power in the face of life's challenges. We were created with the desire to be immortal and unbeatable. It's just a question of how these needs are met.
When Christianity spread to Ephesus, it faced pagan cults that were founded on magic as a source of power (see Acts 19:11-20). People in that city, and in many places in the ancient world, were drawn to religions which offered magical protection and power. God's response in that city was to demonstrate the source of true power. By the work of the Holy Spirit, people were miraculously healed through Paul's ministry. Across the centuries, nothing has changed. God continues to demonstrate his power in the face of the world's alternatives. We receive that power as we trust in him. It's not that we become powerful; it is his power within us. It is a power that works through us for His glory, in spite of our weakness. In fact, it's because we are weak that we are able to receive it. It's not for those who think they are powerful; it's for those who know they are not. That's the reason why we are here, by the way, and why we desire to be more than we are. We were created with a need for the true power that only He provides.
When Paul writes a letter to the church in Ephesus, it's not surprising that he shares his prayer for them in terms of God's power. But it's not power for its own sake. He prays that they would be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in their inner being (Eph. 3:16) so that they would know and experience the love of Christ (v. 18) and be filled with the measure of all the fullness of God (v. 19). God's power has a purpose within us; it is to connect us to him in love. He offers it so that we might know him and know that he loves us, as we face the challenges of life. He offers it so that we can become everything we were meant to be. We experience God's fullness within us as we become rooted and established in love. It's not how the world obtains its version of power, but it's how we do. His power within us is an expression of his love. It's what connects us to him. We can expect it as surely as we can expect his love. Paul's words are meant to assure them of that love, and to assure us as well. As we face the challenges of life, we know we'll have victory because the God who stands with us is powerful, and loves us more than we can imagine.
The movies we are watching are about solitary heroes, wrestling with their purpose as they fight off evil using power for its own sake, with no meaning behind any of it but setting up the next big sequel. It's fun to watch, but it's also empty. The power we receive is real, and connects us to the one who is over all. The one who made us to know him, and to know that we are loved. As we move forward against opposition, we do so knowing that there is a greater purpose, and in the end we cannot be beaten. We will stand together forever with the one who loves us and will never leave us.