Spider-Man, Jesus, and the Ripple Effect of Free Will

When Peter Parker first learns he has special spider-like powers, he’s more interested in using them for his own personal gain rather than serving others. When he has the chance to easily stop a robbery, Peter chooses not to intervene because the man being robbed had just conned him.

Thinking he got revenge, Peter soon discovers that the same escaping robber shot his beloved Uncle Ben. As a crying Peter sees his uncle labor through his final breaths on the sidewalk, he recalls the penetrating last words Ben spoke to him earlier that evening: “With great power comes great responsibility.” At that point, the superhero known as Spider-Man is born.

What we’re seeing here is a powerful phenomenon called “the ripple effect.” It’s the idea that every event in life, whether good or bad, is like a rock thrown into a pond—the ripples spread out and impact everything else around it. In the case of Peter Parker, the murder of one innocent man (his uncle) rippled forward to save thousands of lives later on. On a larger scale, the same can be said of the murder of Jesus. The murder of that innocent God-man brought immeasurable good to billions of people throughout history. And it continues to do so two thousand years later. 

Sometimes we can see how tragedy ripples forward for good, but most of the time we can’t. But God always can. In fact, He guarantees it.¹

It’s not just that good can come from evil but that some greater goods can be achieved in no other way. Suffering can draw us closer to God, wake us up to what is truly important, and prod us to develop the kind of virtue that can only grow in the face of evil and hardship. A person can’t develop perseverance unless there are obstacles to overcome. And there’s no way to develop courage unless there’s evil or danger to face. In other words, we can’t get better unless we have opposition. 

If God had not given his creatures free choice, there would be no need for heroes and no possibility of growth. If there was no evil to fight and no virtue to develop, we wouldn’t experience the deeper satisfaction of an expanded soul. Good times don’t grow our character like bad times. Even the sinless Jesus learned obedience through suffering.²

God knows that love is worth the pain of evil, especially since He will one day end the effects of evil on the redeemed. Once the full number of people have accepted the free pass into His Kingdom provided by the sacrifice of His Son, Christ will come back and right all wrongs.³ God will then quarantine evil in a place called hell. 

In the meantime, while we’re waiting for Christ to come, we’re stuck in a world of trouble. Since it’s not heaven yet, there is evil to fight, souls to be won, and growth to be achieved. Fictional stories about Hollywood heroes like Spider-Man can help us realize that. 


Adapted from Hollywood Heroes: How Your Favorite Movies Reveal God by Frank Turek and Zach Turek. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.


[1] God doesn’t say everything is good, but He promises that all things will work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).

[2] The writer of Hebrews puts it this way: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:7-10, NIV).

[3] God’s Kingdom arrived when Jesus came the first time, but it will not be fully completed until Christ comes the second time. In the meantime, we are left in a world where suffering exists because of Adam’s sin and our own.

Posted on April 21, 2022

Dr. Frank Turek is a speaker and award-winning author or coauthor of several books, including I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and his latest, Hollywood Heroes (releasing from NavPress in April 2022). He hosts a weekly TV program broadcast to 32 million homes and an apologetics podcast on over 180 stations. Frank speaks over 100 times per year, often to youth and college students, and has debated several prominent atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer, and David Silverman. He is the founder and president of CrossExamined.org. Frank Zachary Turek earned his master’s degree in philosophy from Southern Evangelical Seminary. His upcoming book, Hollywood Heroes, coauthored by his father, Frank Turek, releases from NavPress in April 2022.
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