“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)
There’s been a nonstop stream of superhero movies over the last decade, including eighteen movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve seen almost all of them. Characters like Captain America and Thor are larger than life, with enough physical and mental prowess to overcome any obstacle with ease and humor.
Plus, they’re all insanely fit and super good-looking. I want to be like that.
Copyright: choreograph / 123RF Stock Photo
I like superheroes because they push against the limits of what it means to be human, an idea that has appealed to me since I was young.
After I came in dead last running the mile in middle school, I joined the cross-country team to push myself to become a better runner. In college, I received a D- on my first organic chemistry midterm and quadrupled my efforts, eventually snagging the highest grade in the class. Now, as an adult, I’m obsessed with findings ways to push limits by improving and optimizing everything I do.
Pushing limits is a popular concept in Silicon Valley. In our culture, there’s a way to exceed almost every limit. Want to be stronger or faster? Go to the gym or grab a trainer. Feeling cognitively slow? Snag some brain-enhancing nootropics. No time to manage your own schedule? Hire a virtual assistant. Problems sleeping? There are medications and apps for that. There are even people trying to solve the “limit” of death.
Superheroes are attractive because they’ve somehow left the “mereness” of their humanity behind, transcending into a state that can be only described as godlikeness. The other day I met a Silicon Valley colleague who is a world expert in his field and a world-champion dancer and plays in the local symphony and is a prolific artist. He’s like a real-life Iron Man. I picked up my jaw and felt humbled in my mere humanness.
In the past, I’ve prided myself on my ability to exceed my limits by clocking in more hours, working smarter, and going without sleep so I could write one more paper, create one more lecture, or pick up one more shift.
In college, a roommate once prayed over me, “God, please remind Daniel that he is a human being, not a human doing.” I thought it was a little cheesy at the time, but that moment stuck with me.
Over the last couple of years, God has been challenging me to accept the limitations that are part of being human. In the Gospels, Jesus performed amazing miracles but fewer miracles than requested. Given the thousands who came to him, he had plenty of opportunities to do more.
I have no doubt that he could have met the needs of the thousands and thousands of people around him, but that is not what he actually does. Despite being God, Jesus worked within his human limits.
A brief stroll through the Gospels shows a shockingly human God. Despite the miracles, Jesus became tired. He got weak and hungry and thirsty. He rejoiced, marveled, and wept.
In ministry, he knew when to move and when to rest. He knew when to leave the needs of the people and be with God, even when there was plenty of demand to continue healing, teaching, and working. He understood human suffering and died a human death.
Despite being God, Jesus seemed to understand and accept his own humanity.
This has been a challenging lesson for me. On most days, I would rather work toward becoming more like Thor than Jesus. I prefer the speed of the frenetic working world to the peaceful and unhurried pace of Christ.
I am trying to seek contentment within my own limits. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, our humanity is stored in brittle, fragile jars of clay. Through weekly sabbaths, daily meditative practices, and regular discipleship, it has slowly become easier to find peace in my mere humanity.
I’m learning to seek stillness in an otherwise fast-paced, limit-pushing, humanity-denying culture. I’m learning to say no to many things so I can free up space to say yes to the things that are truly life giving and valuable. I’m learning there can be great joy, great peace, and great accomplishment in stillness.
After all, we are human beings, not human doings.
Daniel Fang is married to the wisest and most beautiful woman in the world, Marie. He came to faith in college and has been attending The River Church since 2012. There he volunteers in small groups ministry and the worship team. In his spare time, Daniel eats, runs, reads, and rants about systemic imperfections. He enjoys spending time with his golden retriever, Sobe, who is perfect.