Last night marked the return of The Flash to television after a winter hiatus. It is one of my favorite shows on TV thanks in no small part to its absolute commitment to some of the goofier-seeming aspects of its comic book source material. I'm talking time travel and evil (or perhaps misunderstood) gorillas. In its second season, that comic book commitment has led the show to making Earth 2 a major plot point.
Earth 2 is a parallel planet where things are similar and yet different. On The Flash, the titular superhero is Barry Allen, but the Flash on Earth 2 is Jay Garrick. A lot of the same people exist on both planets but their lives are tweaked; minorly for some and dramatically for others. It's a common superhero storytelling trope. In DC Comics there are numerous alternate earths. On one Superman was raised in the Soviet Union. In another, Batman is an actual vampire.
This storytelling idea is not unique to just comic books. Alternate timelines and worlds exist in all sorts of genre. It's popular in science fiction; Star Trek and Back to the Future immediately leap to mind. The latter part of It's a Wonderful Life centers around an earth with no George Bailey. There was a brilliant episode of the sitcom Community called "Remedial Chaos Theory," which showed the different (and similar) things that occurred when each of the characters go downstairs to get pizza.
I think the reason these stories are so popular is because we like to imagine how things would be different if we tweaked things. Is a hero inherently a hero or are they a product of their environment? Does my life matter? If I skipped class one day instead of going, would it have changed my life? It makes us appreciate the small decisions in life; how the seemingly insignificant can have dramatic impact. Earth 2s and 3s and whatnot help us examine ourselves and the world around us. They may even help us as we try to create the world that we live in.
In a way, I feel like the Christian faith at its best is supposed to be kind of like an Earth 2. The church is supposed to be this alternate place where everything is the same as our normal earth except this: It is a place where people love God and love each other. Now that is not close to always the case nor is it to say that there are places outside the church where those things don't happen.
But if you hear the language of the gospels as a new kingdom breaking into creation and read about God making all things new then it sets up this place where we tweak things just a bit. What would this world look like if love, justice, mercy, and compassion were the things that drove people? What if we cast out greed, fear, and hatred? What if we actually followed the way of Jesus?
That earth would look different. Some of it, I'm not going to lie, would look scary on first glance. But I think that it would ultimately be beautiful. What if the seemingly small thing of the church following Jesus was the big thing that changed it all?