By Dan Stanford
You don’t have to be a superhero fan to recognize the S on Superman’s chest or Batman’s bat emblem. These symbols have saturated our culture for decades, since the debut of these characters in the late ’30s.
Their symbols transcend the generations, adored by eight-year-olds and eighty-year-olds alike. I saw these symbols on T-shirts, tattoos, and car decals. It’s fascinating to me that we can see a red S or a black bat emblem and immediately make the connection. Symbols can be beautiful and powerful.
There’s a scene in the movie Man of Steel when Lois Lane asks Superman what the S on his chest means. The Kryptonian explains, “It’s not an S. On my world it means hope.” Sarcastically she responds that on earth it’s just an S.
While Lois is dismissive at first, it doesn’t take long for her to see the why behind this symbol when Superman saves the planet from General Zod. The S will become a reminder that as long as the son of Jor-El is around, there is someone to save the day.
In the fictional city of Gotham, the bat emblem served as a symbol of hope as well. Whenever Commissioner Gordon flashed that symbol into the night sky, it didn’t matter what villain the city was facing, everyone knew that the dynamic duo was going to swing in and save the day.
When Adam West, one of the more iconic actors to play Batman, died in 2017, the bat signal was projected onto LA’s City Hall. It was an emotional moment for the thousands of Batman fans gathered to pay tribute. It was painful to realize that Adam West would no longer slide down the pole into the Bat Cave, transforming from Bruce Wayne into Batman, jumping into the Batmobile, and going to Gotham’s rescue.
We live in a world desperate for hope. As I was writing Losing the Cape, Hurricane Harvey slammed into Houston, causing extensive flooding and killing over eighty people; Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage in the Caribbean and Florida and took the lives of more than sixty people; a powerful earthquake hit Mexico taking over three hundred lives; Hurricane Maria crashed into Puerto Rico, resulting in massive damage to homes, roads, and infrastructure and causing seventeen deaths; forest fires raged through California and the Pacific Northwest; and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un repeatedly threatened nuclear war. Many days it seemed we should adopt the sign over Dante’s Inferno, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”
The world desperately needs a symbol of hope more powerful than the S on Superman’s chest and the bat emblem that hovers over Gotham. During the first through fourth centuries, Christians used a lot of symbols to communicate with one another. They used symbols like the fish, the cross, and the anchor. Symbols were an important way to communicate concepts and messages since a high percentage of people at the time could not read or write.
One of the earliest symbols was the fish or ichthus. Archaeologists have found hundreds of them in their excavations of tombs, catacombs, and buildings. The Greek spelling of the word comprises five letters, which in English stand for “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior.” According to some Bible scholars, this symbol may have been used as a coded reference for Jesus.
The ichthus, cross, and anchor were all symbols of hope, visual reminders that Jesus was the hero who already saved not only the day but eternity. Even though first-century Christians lived at a time when they faced prison, loss of homes, friends, and family if their faith was discovered, Jesus was their ultimate provision and protection. They knew that their security was not based on the economy, military, or judicial system. Their security was in Jesus, who does not need a cape or catchphrase.
Hope for me is realizing that our prayer, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), will be realized. One day planet earth will experience the perfection of heaven. Marvel and DC superheroes can save the fictional world from the villain; but in the real world, only our Savior Jesus can rescue us from true evil. Only Jesus can usher in a day when heroes will no longer be needed because sin and pain and death will no longer be present.
My dad died in his early forties. It bothers me that he never got to see any of my kids. He never got to walk my sister down the aisle. He never got to hear one of my sermons. It bothers me that I never got to love on the baby we lost. It bothers me that there are terrorists who torture people for years before publicly executing them. It bothers me that people keep taking their despair out through mass shootings.
But my hope comes from believing that one day God will win, love will prevail, sickness will be cured, families will be reunited, and wrongs will be reversed.
Our tendency as humans is to forget the times God helped us in the past. We suffer from spiritual amnesia. Our faith becomes situational. We trust Him with our soul but not our finances. We trust Him with our forever but not our kids. We trust Him with our past but not our addictions. We forget that the God who came to our rescue so many times before can do so again now.
Instead, we can become symbols of hope when we practically lean into God during times of hardship and heartache and when we share the story of what God has done on our behalf. We bring hope when we remind people that someday God’s kingdom will prevail.
As it says in Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Scripture is a résumé of God’s faithfulness. When we read about God providing for His people, it inspires hope in us. If God could rescue Noah from a flood, Daniel from a lion’s den, David from a giant, and Deborah from an army, God can intervene in our situation as well. If God did it before, He will be faithful to do it again.
These stories spur us on today. In the same way, the lives of Bible characters inspire us to hope, we can inspire others to hope. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we get to foreshadow what life in eternity will look like. We get to show the world what true love, joy, peace, and patience should be.
It’s important not only to discover people in history you can look up to and emulate, but also to find people you know personally and call a friend. My wife, Suzanne, keeps me grounded and centered. When I want to complain or whine, I think, What would Suzanne do?
She can no longer leave the house, jump in the car, and drive somewhere; she constantly relies on others, and some days she’s literally stuck. Yet she still exhibits joy and works hard to help others. I’m not physically challenged, and yet I find myself at times easily defeated or irritated or complaining. When this happens, I think of her.
The first people I brag to about God’s intervention is my kids. I want them to have front-row seats to God’s activity in my life. If God answers a prayer, I tell them. If an unexpected check comes in the mail, and it just happens to match that month’s needs, I tell them. When I experience a providential circumstance too big to be a coincidence, I tell them.
Recently I was passing the neighborhood I grew up in when an old friend came to mind. The more I prayed for him, the more I felt compelled to stop by his old house. We hadn’t talked to each other in over ten years, so it was odd to have him on my mind. Unable to shake this urge, I made a detour. I knocked on the front door, and his dad answered. When I asked about his son, he offered to call him at work.
My friend got on the phone and said, “You are never going to believe this! I was just trying to track you down online, but I wasn’t having any luck. I can’t believe you called me! How ironic that after ten years I decide to look you up on social media, and you call me at that exact moment.”
This friend didn’t know what he believed about God, but this experience gave him hope that maybe God is not only real but cares about him. You better believe I rushed home to share this story with my kids. I want them to know that God is not just the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He’s the God of Dan, Caleb, Connor, and Colton.
He’s not just the past-tense God of the Bible or the God you will meet one day after you die. He is also the present-tense God. It’s easier for me to convince them of this when they not only hear about God’s activity in the Bible but they see God’s activity in my life. My life and salvation become symbols of hope for them.
Your life may never be made into a Hollywood movie, but it can inspire hope in others. In the words of the apocalyptic writer John, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11).
Christians who have walked through decades of marriage can give hope that “till death do us part” is possible.
A follower of Christ living in sobriety can give hope that freedom from addiction is achievable.
A person’s redemption story can give hope that God can “save a wretch like me.”
A woman or man faithfully serving Christ can give hope that finishing strong is possible.
One of the ladies in our church works for a women’s shelter. We routinely donate pajamas and other needed items. A single mom and her two daughters checked into the shelter, and the mom was embarrassed because she didn’t have any pajamas for the girls.
Our friend was able to grab a brand-new pair for each of them. They matched and were both the right size. The girls began to dance around, because they had never owned a pair of their own pj’s.
In a culture where kids get upset if they don’t get the latest and greatest for Christmas, these two girls were over the moon about something others take for granted. My friend got to be their hero that night. She is a reminder that there is still hope in the world.
How are you living as a symbol of hope?
Taken from Losing the Cape: The Power of Ordinary in a World of Superheroes by Dan Stanford (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.