Let Kids Fight Evil So They Can Be Heroes


In the early to mid ’80s, I was a boy in a family where I was allowed to have a He-Man action figure, but not Skeletor. I could play with Lion-O but not Mumm-Ra. I don’t know, maybe they could throw a costume party or set up a lemonade stand together—but those muscles and swords were NOT for fighting evil.

Actually, I can remember our church passing out a list around Christmas of what toys were and weren’t appropriate. For a few years, I had to choose Christmas gifts off of that list. Thankfully, I was allowed to have both G.I. Joe and Cobra, Luke and Vader, and even those little, pink M.U.S.C.L.E. guys on the no-no list.

But seriously, what good are heroes with no evil to defeat? Just a bunch of guys building muscles and inventing weapons because they love to share those things with each other?

This morning I read a quote from Brennan Manning that reminded me of these funny memories:

God will bring good out of evil – even a greater good than if there had been no evil – and the trial will have been an immense good for us.

So I say, the bigger the bad-guy, the greater the hero.

[Editor’s note: I actually own this poster (below), and it’s awesomeness is scarcely to be comprehended.]



  1. Eric Dye

    I too enjoyed these toys as a boy while part of the church was buzzing about the Turmoil in the Toybox.

    This is the kind of perspective that is a breath of fresh air as I raise my own son.

    Thank you for this.

    Day. Made.


  2. Matt

    Joe, I’m interested if you’ve read what Walter Wink has to say about the myth of redemptive violence. His thoughts are especially powerful in the book Engaging the Powers. It has caused me to wrestle with how I should introduce the ideas of good defeating evil to my sons. I’d be interested in what you think about how we should tell kids how good guys beat bad guys. In response to your comment, “the bigger the bad-guy, the greater the hero,” the question to me is HOW is the hero greater?

    While I’m no longer sure that I should so whimsically introduce my kids to super heroes, it does seem strange the idea that there would be super heroes without super villains. That wouldn’t be all that helpful in their development either.

  3. Benjamin Christensen

    I was reminded of the tune Uneven Odds by Sleeping At Last when reading this. Little snippet below.

    “Maybe your light is a seed,
    and the darkness, the dirt.
    in spite of the uneven odds
    beauty lifts from the earth.

    you’re much too young now
    so i’ll write these words down:
    darkness exists
    to make light truly count.”

  4. Joe Sutphin


    Great thoughts, and truly much deeper than my anecdotal post.
    I have not read any of the work of Walter Wink. Maybe I’ll check that out.
    I’m sure that in reading my article here, it’s probably hard to avoid coming to a conclusion that violence is the root of all of this hero talk. Thats a tough one, because I don’t ever think in terms of true violence when playing with a child. I certainly am not an advocate of true, real-world violence. And I’m sure that if we really dig into what I’m saying, there’s likely some double standards in my speech.
    I might have encouraged my child to turn the other cheek, but then played with Lord of the Rings action figures with him, slaying hoards of orcs on a daily basis, and sometimes having fun being gross about it. And in the same respect, years ago my wife and I were very proud of our daughter for physically standing up to bullies who were picking on a child with disabilities on the playground. It was hard for us to rebuke what she did. Sure, we could have encouraged her to take his hand, go get a teacher, but I think we just appreciated that she believed that some things are worth fighting for. It was honorable to us that she would risk being disciplined at school to physically stand up for someone who could not defend themselves. To me, and likely to that boy, she was a great hero that day. I realize that a lot of parents would disagree with me. In some countries, kids experience violence on a daily basis. We are blessed in America to have the choice to protect our children from even viewing violence.
    I want to avoid digging too far down any “rabbit holes” with my response and just explain that, I raised my son (now 21) on action heroes and army men. We enjoyed great fun together, teaming up to defeat bad guys on a regular basis. I never made a practice of trying to instruct him on real world violence as we played though. It was play. It was an chance to be kids, to battle in unrealistic ways. It is each parent’s right to decide if play time should just be mindless play, or if there should always be learning involved. I always lean toward the first.
    I do think there is a difference between playing with action figures and pretending that evil is overthrown and, say, setting up a model of Bin Laden’s compound with your son’s GI Joe’s and reenacting the real world tension and violence of that raid. During play as a boy and with my son, our “bad guys” were always as ridiculously bad as possible, and we conquered them in ways that didn’t translate to real life. And in the end, we ate some P.B. and J. sandwiches and went on with something else in life. We didn’t go looking for real evil to fight. Our son never once used violence to solve anything. I don’t even remember reports of a single fight at school. On the other hand, our daughter played with Barbies, building imaginary families, and she was the one we were more likely to get calls from the school about regarding fights. I did not find the presence or absence of violence during play time impacted their decisions to be violent in life.
    It’s a very complicated subject the deeper you dig. And I don’t think I ever viewed play time as a time to instruct and teach my son once he was old enough to create scenarios and play on his own. I believe there are a lot of people that would disagree with me on that, but I viewed simply playing, and getting absorbed in a spontaneous, fictitious story to be a wonderful thing for a child. I still do. I frequently think back on playing with little green army men with my boy years ago along the bank of the stream in our back yard. I miss it tremendously. I miss tromping through the creek with him, stick swords in hand, as we slay imaginary goblins, pretending to be powerful. Pretending to fight along side of each other.
    Please forgive me if I was too anecdotal by saying “the bigger the bad guy, the greater the hero.” I recognize that can open up a massive conversation. Simply put, I believe in imagination. I believe in kids being kids. I believe in the innocence of child’s play that does not result in teaching. I believe in turning the other cheek. I also believe in standing tall when needed, and potentially fighting for what is right when needed.

    wow… I appreciate you causing me to dig deeper into what I was saying, Matt. I don’t have any desire to cause you to see things the way I have stated them just now. In part, because I have double standards, and I wasn’t a great dad in a lot of areas. I failed so many times and live with many regrets. Play time was one of the few areas I may actually be proud of. But I think that is the road you are given by God the right to pave for your kids. My post here was nostalgic and anecdotal, but deserved being explained better. So thank you.

  5. Lisa

    Interesting post and comments! Appreciate your secondary words, Joe. It’s all good food for thought. I’m currently reading through the book of Ezekiel….it’s harsh, angry, stuff at times. And violent! Sin has consequences, bottom line. As parents we have to help our kids deal with that reality. I think some of that comes in letting our kids be heroes in their play as you have described, fighting the bad guy, vanquishing evil. It gives them a sense of how good it feels when what is wrong is made right and justice is done. Ultimately it’s an echo of the larger story we all live every day.

  6. Jamin Still

    I wasn’t even allowed to have the heroes… One Christmas a friend bought me Logray (the Ewok medicine man). My mom threw away all his witchcrafty stuff, painted him brown, and put him in my Noah’s ark. He was the biggest, loneliest bear of them all.

  7. Lindsey

    My oldest turns 6 on Monday and right now his heart is all ablaze with superheroes and Star Wars. I love it, and owe a lot of my inner peace to the Rabbit Room. He’s constantly acting out a story in which he is brave, strong, and valiant. Though most of this exists in a pretend world, it’s amazing what he recognizes in the real world as being dark and scary, and rather than retreating or ignoring it, he’s constantly asking for ways to engage. That’s the Gospel righ there.

  8. Matt


    Thanks for your wonderful extensive response. I didn’t really expect it, and it is exactly what I needed for perspective on this issue. My family does live in one of those countries where violence is prevalent, and it is from this experience that my wrestling has come to the surface. As in most things, good quality balance is really useful – times of whimsy and ridiculous play, and purposeful parental responses to the injustice my kids are exposed to every day.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond on my question, Joe! It is really encouraging!

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