You can’t save the world alone. But do you even feel like saving the world at this point in your life?
Those deep concepts are at play in the new movie Justice League. Months after Superman’s death, the world has become a thoroughly dark, depressed place. Hope seems distant, if not entirely lost. Humanity’s worst fears emerge, making conditions ripe for invasion by an ancient villain who’s ready to claim power.
Spoilers ahead—as well as a glimpse into how [tweet_dis]this film’s incredible dialogue and epic story arc forge an intriguing allegory about the Church[/tweet_dis].
Justice League is packed with discussion opportunities for youth workers and parents alike to have with teenagers.
To begin, imagine what it would’ve felt like to be an Israelite at the start of the Exile, or one of Jesus’ disciples the day after he died. Filmgoers get a taste of this as Batman/Bruce Wayne navigates what it means to be out of his element. No longer does he merely chase human villains and fend off everyday attacks, for he and the rest of the world feel the striking absence of their godlike savior. Wonder Woman likewise aches for the glimmer of hope that had emerged in the Man of Steel, prompting her to help humanity out from time to time while remaining guarded.
This internal dance prompts viewers to recall times when we’ve experienced similar feelings:
- Batman—While the rest of the world spirals into chaos and mourning, Bruce Wayne leaps onto rooftops for a new perspective. Driven by an ache hidden under a hard shell, he’s determined to fix the past and prepare for the future. “There are enemies coming,” he tells a potential ally. “I need warriors.” In a moment of transparency, Wayne confesses that Superman was “more human” than he was. That dialogue sounds like what you might hear from the Apostle Peter, or an ambitious youth leader—that we must save the world “right now…so what are we waiting for?”
- Wonder Woman—Still hurting from a previous loss, Diana Prince hides in plain sight in a museum. Co-workers who ask what she does on weekends hear, “Nothing very interesting.” Batman challenges Wonder Woman to become more visible, as if she’s a church attendee who’s somewhat passionate about her faith but guards against exposing it or herself to the world and other believers. Perhaps you know or have seen this among Christians who’ve left a traditional church environment yet keep wondering, “What if I gave that a shot again?” Maybe we all need to take in this woman’s sense of “wonder.”
- Aquaman—As someone who straddles two worlds, Arthur Curry wonders if he’s human enough to be a hero or Atlantean enough to be a king. He’d rather settle for short-term “missions” than be part of an ongoing team. Sound familiar? Batman repeatedly invites Aquaman to join the community of heroes, but until his heart breaks, Aquaman swims between shallow waters and deep guardedness. He drinks hard from a bottle and shoves around people he disagrees with. Yet Aquaman eventually realizes the world will be better if he makes a difference, rather than just hide in the waves.
- Cyborg—Victor Stone once confidently knew himself and his body, but is now experiencing changes that make him an awkward blend of machine and human. At times his body acts up in ways he can’t control, prompting fear that he’ll lose himself in the process. Yet this technological puberty can’t overcome the character of his heart, positioning him to be a unique hero. Stone speaks the language of this generation’s greatest threat, but Cyborg speaks an even deeper language that can overcome it. Teenagers can benefit from recognizing this intriguing example. Cyborg is a great talking point, but he isn’t alone.
- Flash—Like Cyborg, Barry Allen considers himself an “accident.” Endowed with powers from a lightning storm, he has a youthful exuberance. Always ready to crack a joke, Flash recognizes that he doesn’t fit in—he needs friends. He confesses to Batman that, “I’ve never done battle. I’ve just pushed some people and run away.” Doesn’t that sound like what teenagers might say when we challenge them to share their faith? In response, Batman wisely counsels: “Save one… save one person… don’t talk, don’t fight. Get in. Get one out. [Then]…you’ll know.” Perhaps we can offer similar advice.
Justice League (watch trailer here) reminds us that we need heroes, and heroes need each other. What a beautiful and inviting reminder of why Jesus created the Church.
Raise these deeper themes in conversation with teenagers. Use these quotes from the movie as launching points for discussions about teamwork and meeting the greater needs of this world:
- “We’re asking people we don’t know to risk their lives.”
- “I don’t recognize this world.” “You don’t have to recognize it. We just have to save it.”
- “Divided, we are not enough.”
- “This is the plan.” “No…this is the team.”
The movie opens with a flashback of Superman. Seeing him there underscores something his father (in another movie) predicted: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive toward. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun, Kal. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders.”
When Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, he showed us this truth. In His physical absence, we come together to be his Body—and when one part decides not to participate, we aren’t at our best or ready for what the world needs. The Justice League emphasizes this through comic-book action, but we often de-emphasize it through carefree apathy.
[tweet_dis]We must stop looking for ways to hide from our calling to be the Church[/tweet_dis]…to be the “league” that shares Jesus’ message of restoration with this broken world. Yes, mission trips, Bible studies, worship concerts, and more all play key roles in youth ministry. Keep using them to spur young people’s faith and to invite Jesus in to do what he does best. But don’t use those activities to “costume up” without ever going out.
Let’s not stand next to each other without truly teaming up. Let’s not be so smart about the next way to do church that we neglect our neighbors or classmates just a few feet away.
You can’t save the world alone. We’re all flawed. We all have a reason not to step up. But we are the Church…and together—and only with Jesus—we can save the world.
How can we team up better?