When I finished watching The Dark Knight I was certain that I knew who the next main villain was going to be. I could see it clearly. Christopher Nolan was going to do for the Riddler what he had done for the Joker. The Joker was no longer a laughable villain in a purple suit, and I hoped that the Riddler would no longer bring back memories of Jim Carey in far too much green. I assumed he was going to be a Sevenesque villain. Wrapping each and every crime in a veil of mystery so thick that no one could prove his guilt and felt just as uncertain about even suspecting him. Not only would this be a brilliant resurrection of E. Nigma, but it would also finally showcase Batman’s detective skills as well as his brawn on the big screen.
Alas, Mr. Nolan and I did not have similar visions for the third installment of the Batman movies. Regardless, a brief foray through Batman lore will give us some more food for thought as we puzzle out the face of Christ among so many counterfeits.
“It’s a mystery. Broken into a jigsaw puzzle. Wrapped in a conundrum. Hidden in a Chinese box. A riddle.”
There are three temptations that come with being human that I believe the Riddler displays for us:
- We like being clever
- We don’t like being vulnerable
- We associate mysteriousness with deviance
“I’m hazarding a guess here, but… not exactly the way you’d imagined this turning out, is it, sweetheart?”
I believe our desire to be clever is a matter of pride. Why else would Paul shut it down by pointing out that God’s foolishness is greater than all human wisdom (1 Cor 1:25)? We like to be clever to set ourselves apart from one another. Often times though this cleverness is asserted by making others look like fools. If I make you start below me, than I don’t need to go far to be above you. Doubt me? Look up any number of Atheist Memes against Christianity or (unfortunately) Christian Memes against Atheism. They are essentially playground name calling disguised by wit and mediocre Photoshop skills.
So why? Why do we push each other apart with these childish attempts at cleverness? I would venture the guess that the answer to this mystery is one we know all too well; fear.
“I am nothing like the Joker! Why does everybody keep saying that?!”
Fear motivates us to do a lot of things. It motivates us to pursue nearly every vice in the book, and every vice in turn fuels our fear. Now we can be afraid of a great many things, but one of the strongest, most justified fears in our life is the fear of vulnerability. We are afraid of being hurt, rejected, misunderstood, cast-off, or used. The Riddler seems just like us in this regard. E. Nigma protects his mysterious side out of a desire to avoid vulnerability, as a matter of fact, so does Batman. Why? Because we know that the evil I am capable of can be done to me just the same. So, to protect myself, I avoid vulnerability; and to avoid rejection I most certainly disguise the darker sides of myself.
“The mastermind always wants more. It’s criminal nature.”
This habit of hiding my darker side confirms a suspicion though; mysteriousness is linked to deviance. This is the great lie of the Riddler and the great lie of the Devil (Gen 3:4-5 – paints the picture that God is holding out on them). Here is how it works:
We enjoy feeling clever, so we are willing to degrade others to do it. In the process we recognize the wrongs that we are capable of committing. In realizing that we can do these things, we begin to fear them from others. Thus we use what cleverness we really do have to wall ourselves off against the threats of vulnerability, especially the vulnerability of someone seeing our wrongdoing. We use mystery as our shield. Thus when we encounter mystery elsewhere we suspect and assume deviance.
Hence the jealous cheater and other such examples.
So riddle me this, what happens when this attitude encounters the mystery of God?
The Riddler’s name is Edward (E.) Nigma. This not so subtle play on words gives us one standard for a mysterious person. But let us now turn to another mysterious person, let’s look at the one the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls “the mystery of salvation” (CCC 774).
Christ teaches us three counterpoints to the Riddler:
- Christ teaches us that our cleverness does not come from setting ourselves above others. Rather, true wisdom comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our lives. We are truly wise when we begin, even in small ways, to think with the mind of God, not against it. This is done more and more as we allow the life of Christ to flourish within us, for He is the Logos of God, the “wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24).
- True expressions of love require vulnerability, and God who is love became utterly vulnerable. C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Christ shows us this true vulnerability on the cross. He became so vulnerable as to be led where He should not have been led. To be treated as He never should have been treated. To be bound, humiliated, and crucified naked on the cross. Nailed to a tree, not even protected by a strip of clothing, out of love.
- This act of vulnerability is mysterious indeed. “Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23) because it is a mystery. Yet this is not a mystery of deviance, but of purity. The reality of this ultimate act of vulnerable love is not comprehendible to our fallen hearts. That is why “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). For without the wisdom of the Spirit the vulnerability of God is a brilliant mystery. And that is the way of it. God’s mystery is one of light not of darkness. He is hidden in a grand brightness beyond our ability to pierce. He is not lurking in the shadows like a thief.
No, the riddle of the mystery of God only begins when we see that Christ at the transfiguration is no more glorious than when he was on the Cross.