“Stop Superman!”

The cry was a constant imperative among the criminals of my childhood world. The adventures of our favorite superhero captured my brothers and me. No one, no matter how nefarious, could spread mayhem when Superman was around. Unless, of course, the evildoers had a bit of kryptonite on hand. Kryptonite was the stuff that undid Superman’s super powers.

I soon outgrew Superman along with the mythical claims of kryptonite but the idea that every known power could have an antidote was planted. Is it true in reality?

More recently I read about the first atomic reactor—a device built at Stagg Field in Chicago. The role of boron caught my attention in the story. It functions as a neutron inhibitor that can stop or “quench” nuclear fission. So boron is to atomic reactors what the fantasy of kryptonite was to Superman: massive energy can be blocked by an otherwise innocuous substance.

With the boron analogy in mind let’s shift to another power. God’s Spirit at work in Christians led the apostle Paul to rhapsodize about his power: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father . . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being . . .” and, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-16, 20-21).

Paul clearly had more Spiritual power in mind than many Christians experience today. Yet in reading about Paul in Acts and in reading his epistles we see he practiced what he preached: he displayed remarkable power as he shared the gospel. So, too, the first-century church “turned the world upside-down” for many who lived in that pagan era.

Transformation by the Spirit’s power is still available today. All we need is for God’s power to be at work in and through us as in the early days of the church. With the imagery of C. S. Lewis and his Screwtape Letters in mind, we can almost hear the Devil and his evil minions shouting to each other, “Stop them!”

And, sadly, they seem to have done all too well.

Instead of transforming power in the church today we more often find weakness and, in some settings, wholesale accommodation to the enemy’s schemes. But why—or how?

Let me suggest that a spiritual version of boron—something that blots out God’s work among us—is active today. Again, in Ephesians, we read: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30).

The thought of our bringing grief to God’s Spirit may sound grandiose but it’s a biblical axiom. Paul also speaks of our capacity to “quench” the Spirit by embracing values and actions that repel him (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

So what do we do to avoid the enemy’s stifling work—to get away from his spiritual boron?

We should at least ask what he’s doing or using. What on earth does he have in his bag of tricks that can blot out the power of God in us?

The simple answer of the Bible is that we can dismiss God’s love by our pursuit of self-love. And by self-love the Bible is speaking of our longing for personal status and security, as well as any preference for darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil. Anything that elevates self-interest in place of a love for God and for our neighbors is self-love.

A corollary here is that we aren’t talking about God’s “willpower” versus human “willpower.” The lack of God’s power in believers—to repeat the biblical point—is all about a lack of love for him. The point is that God allows us to withhold our love from him and to look elsewhere with our affections. When we embrace that freedom, he retreats. Yet if we draw near him by responding to his offered love, he draws near to us.

This explains the widespread charges in the Old Testament of spiritual prostitution—“whoredom”—against Israel. It also explains the weight of Christ’s charge against the church in Ephesus, “you have abandoned the love that you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). God made us to love and delight in him so it grieves him when we worship and serve the creation rather than the God who created us.

So just as boric acid—a liquid form of boron—serves as a neutron sponge to atomic chain reactions, our self-love is a sponge that blots out our responsiveness to God’s love. And this grieves God: we can hurt and repel him.

The enemy knows this. So what does he do? Does he call us to love our entertainments more than God? Does he invite us to grumble more and give thanks less? Does he give us social popcorn in order to distract us from the feast of God’s personality? Does he stir church teachings that dismiss the primacy of God’s love?

However he does it, he’s effective. Jesus even warned us against demonic antidotes in his parable of the soils.

Yet there are some who will ultimately bear fruit. Some who, like Paul, are compelled to live a new life of love, now captured by Christ’s love.

Try it if you aren’t there yet. And if anyone starts shouting, “Stop it!” just consider the source and keep looking to Christ.


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