Fourteen years ago, Pixar released The Incredibles, a film about a superhero family. After a huge delay, Incredibles 2 will be released on June 14th of this year. In anticipation of this event, my family and I rewatched The Incredibles last week. I was struck again by an interesting message of finding peace in utilizing your strengths.
The storyline follows Mr. Incredible, known for his super strength, and his wife, Elastigirl, who has the ability to stretch out her limbs and reshape her body. In their glory days, they fought against crime–that is until the climate for superheroes changed and they are no longer loved by the people of the world. Mr. Incredible, Bob, and his wife, Helen, must go into hiding, keeping their abilities in check while they attempt to imitate normal life. Bob works for a corrupt insurance company that does the opposite of helping people. Helen stays home raising their three kids: Violet, a teenager with the gift of disappearing, Dash, a school-aged boy with super speed, and Jack-Jack, a baby with no known super abilities (at least at the beginning of the film).
A Family in Crisis
The family is in crisis though. Bob hates his job, even though he secretly tries to help his customers whose claims are being denied. At home, he is disengaged, reading the newspaper at the dinner table and ignoring his family. Violet is withdrawn and quiet, preferring to cover her face with her hair and hide from potential love interests. Dash is unruly and gets in trouble at school though he’s too fast for his teacher to prove it. Helen is desperately trying to keep it all together and prevent another relocation due to Bob’s incidents which occur whenever Bob reveals his superhuman strength.
Despite their many moves (initiated by the government to prevent scandal), Bob and his superhero friend, Frozone, still listen to police radios and try to help out when possible. Eventually, Bob loses his temper at work when his boss refuses to let him help someone being mugged. He throws his boss through several walls. He is, of course, fired.
When he gets home, he is too scared to tell Helen what has happened. Instead, when sorting through his work belongings he finds a tablet that has a secret message–one inviting him to come out of superhero retirement and that promises to triple his annual salary. He takes the offer and is flown out to an island where he defeats a robot. This success revitalizes Bob who starts working out, pays more attention to his family, and dresses better. Even his relationship with his wife appears to improve, though he still does not tell her what is really going on.
The movie crescendos with a situation that requires each member of the family to use their unique superhero abilities in order to defeat the villain. This experience bonds the family together and the movie ends showcasing the change that occurs in the family. Bob has realized that it isn’t all about him. Dash is now allowed to participate in sports. Violet wears her hair back and is bold with a guy she likes. At the very end, another bad guy emerges and the last screenshot is them all wearing their masks preparing to take down the enemy as a family. The metamorphosis of this family is framed through a single idea–when they were kept from utilizing their potential, they were unhappy and disconnected. When they were free to express their talents, particularly for the greater good, they found confidence and connection.
Woven into this straightforward theme of utilizing your potential is a critical undertone. This is seen at the beginning of the movie when Dash and his mom are riding in the car after hearing his teacher accuses him of putting a tack on his chair. When Helen notes that everyone is special, Dash retorts that’s the same thing as saying no one is special.
This is also seen in the villain, Syndrome. When he was a child, he idolized Mr. Incredible and tried to imitate superpowers with his inventions. When Mr. Incredible rejects him, he thinks it’s because he doesn’t have superpowers. He spends his life perfecting his inventions so that he can one day face and conquer Mr. Incredible (and other superheroes). In his moment of triumph, he states, “If everyone is a super then no one is super!”
The Gulf Between
There appears to be a gulf between those who are “super” and those who are not. Fear, anger, and rejection seem to be the identifying emotions of those who are not super. On the other hand, frustration and a sense of under-appreciation seem to characterize those who are gifted and want to use their abilities to help. In a world where we are equal but not equally gifted, how do the talented and the not-so-talented make peace?
In the church, we see this disconnect played out in how we view believers and their roles. It is easy to look up to those who have abilities that put them in the limelight, but Paul reminds us that the church is like a body. Paul states, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12 ESV)
Just because someone has a role that seems more important, does not mean that our role is less valuable. Paul (1 Corinthians 12: 14-18 ESV) explains that each part is necessary:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.
The body only functions well as each part does the job for which it is created. There is honor in being who we are created to be. This keeps us from the sin of Syndrome who looked on the abilities of the superheroes with envy, and this reminds us also that God is glorified when people rightly use their abilities.
Lest those who are overly talented suffer the same pride as Mr. Incredible though, Paul goes on to explain that appearances of great talent can be deceptive. In verses 21-26 (bold mine), he states
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
God’s Way is Different
This is the way of God–to bring greater glory and value to that which others would despise. It is also why the greatest leaders should be the humblest servants and the last shall be first. We must not be confused with the system of the world which rejoices in beauty and achievement with one voice and with another encourages mediocrity with low expectations.
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We must walk another path–one where we see our gifts not as important in and of themselves but as conduits through which God’s grace is funneled to the world. If our purpose is the glory of God and the betterment of our brothers and sisters, we avoid the trap of egoism.
So my encouragement is two-fold–seek out your gifting and work at it and perfect it for the growth of the body of Christ. And, yet, do this with such humility and grace that those who would be tempted to jealousy will have no case against you. In this way, we function in the unity that God has in mind and the only one who will be deemed “super” will be God.