The Adventures of Superman aired from 1952 through 1958 and began with a feature film in 1951. Imagine if the studio executives hired salesmen to stand up at the end of each premiere and say, “Superman is the savior of the world. And now with every head bowed and every eye closed you can decide to be saved by Superman; you can put your faith in Superman. But if you don’t, he won’t . . . save you. Instead, he will consign you to endless torment. I see those hands. Now just repeat after me: ‘Superman you are the savior of the world. I trust you.’ That means that you will tune in every week, dress like Superman, and buy all the available merchandise.”
I would imagine every confused little boy would raise his hand, say the words, watch the show, dress like Superman, and buy all the available merchandise . . . bound by terror and a secret loathing of Superman and themself. Forced to decide, they would no longer be able to decide to trust Superman, hope in Superman, or love Superman.
But now imagine if the studio just showed the movie and said nothing. And, of course, that is just what happened. And basically, every kid in America “made a decision” for Superman, watched every episode, dressed like superman, and bought all the available merchandise. They just watched Superman decide, and then they just decided.
In season one of Ted Lasso, coach Lasso has his failing soccer team—filled with self-centered professional athletes—watch the movie, The Iron Giant. To his assistant he comments, “About minute 75, there will be a room full of grown men crying.” And sure enough, there is. In the morning they each decide to sacrifice; they each decide to pass the ball and they win the game.
At about minute 75 the Iron Giant flies toward a nuclear warhead as he hears this phrase echoing in his mind: “You are who you chose to be.” He closes his eyes, answers, “Superman,” and then sacrifices himself to save all humanity as his broken body reigns down upon all below.
I too cried at The Iron Giant, but not at minute 75. I knew that story and had preached that story, as I preached people to “the decision” countless times. I had been trained to explain “the plan of salvation” and call for a decision; …to preach “The Romans Road” and ask people to decide. But the supposed “Romans Road” ends in chapter 10, while Romans keeps going. And, just like the rest of Scripture, it seems to say that we are not who we choose to be but who God has chosen us to be. So, I didn’t cry at minute 75, but in the end, I couldn’t stop sobbing.
“I don’t want you to be unaware of this mystery,” writes Paul in Romans 11. “A partial hardening has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles come in. And in this way, all Israel will be saved.” That would include the Israel not of Israel (9:6), the dishonorable portion of the lump (9:21), the part hardened and cut off from the fullness of Israel (11:12) and the fullness of the Gentiles grafted in (11:25).
“For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (11:29).”
You cannot revoke God’s Decision to save with your decision to be damned.
In Chapter 9, he told us, “God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (It’s his decision!). And so, from 9 and through 10 and 11, we should be asking, “Whom does God harden and on whom does he choose to have mercy?”
Now the answer: “God consigned all to disobedience that he may have mercy on all (11:32).”
That’s God’s free choice, his eternal decision, his election; the judgment of God.
“All are vessels of wrath precisely so that all may be vessels of mercy. As I say, not a hard argument to follow if one has a will to do so.” –David Bentley Hart
Many say, “That would be nice to believe but the rest of Romans won’t allow it.”
And yet, the rest of Romans—like a road—leads directly to it.
It’s not Romans that won’t allow it; it’s our judgment of God’s Judgment that won’t allow it.
Next verse: “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! …Who has first given a gift to him that it might be repaid.”
You cannot pay for God’s decision to save with your decision to be saved.
Jesus died for your sins, not so that you wouldn’t die, but that having died, you would experience life from the dead—resurrection only happens “from the dead (11:15).”
And dead things don’t decide.
Romans 11:36a “For from him and through him and to him are all things.”
Do you believe that? Then how about that? That belief?
Romans 11:36b “To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
If your faith is not from him, then, to you be the glory for you’re the hero in your story; not Jesus but “me-sus,” your ego.
Paul didn’t preach people to any decision other than God’s decision: Jesus.
It means “God is Salvation.” And that means that you’re not.
That’s a tremendous relief, then the deepest possible insult, and then a conundrum.
If I am who I chose to be, I am nothing but an arrogant illusion.
And if I am NOT who I chose to be, I’m nothing but a robot.
The Iron Giant is a massive metal robot that falls to earth in 1957.
He befriends a fatherless boy named Hogarth as Hogarth befriends him.
In one scene Hogarth tells the Giant that he has a soul.
In Scripture, a soul is made with temporal dust and eternal Spirit.
Souls die but the Spirit doesn’t die… and with his Spirit, God makes dead souls live once again.
“The first Adam became a living soul” writes Paul. “The last Adam—Eschatos Adam, Super Man—became a life-giving Spirit.”
At minute 74, all humanity chooses to be what we all choose to be: vessels of wrath.
They launch a nuclear warhead at the Giant forgetting that the Giant is with them.
At minute 75, the Giant shoots into space to intercept the warhead, and there, he freely choses to be who he always is: Superman.
But I wasn’t crying: He chose, and I couldn’t seem to choose.
So, is that all the death of Jesus is: A beautiful decision, once upon a time, which none of us can ever fully emulate? Is it just a story in the past, leaving an empty space in the soul right now?
Officials give a broken piece of the Giant to Hogarth who keeps it in an empty box next to his bed.
One night it comes to life and, along with all the pieces in all the boxes in all the world, it starts moving toward an ice sheet somewhere in Greenland upon which we suddenly see the head.
And that’s when I started sobbing and couldn’t stop, for I realized that this was the very thing happening in me in that very moment.
I wasn’t on my own trying to make decisions for God. And I wasn’t just a robot.
Every good decision in me, was him rising in me, in communion with me, his righteousness actively imputed to me—the “me” that we were freely choosing to be.
And every bad decision in me? They are the revelation of who I Am not, in hope of who I Am.
Stay Awake. It’s into the garden of your self-centered soul that Jesus has descended and now prays “nevertheless, not my will but thy will be done.” That’s Faith, Hope, and Love.
It’s not a plan for us to work; it’s the plan that works us.
It’s the eternal unrelenting decision of God.
With every head bowed and every eye closed say, “Thank you, Jesus. Amen.”
“What can I do?” You ask.
Well, I’d suggest this as step one: every week just watch the adventures of Superman—listen to his story; Ingest his decision: Body Broken and Blood Shed.
Watch the adventures of Superman and you will become the adventures of Superman—not a robot, but the Resurrected Body of Christ.