“Come, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Matt. 16:24
In the film Ghost Rider, based on a Marvel comic book of the same name, we get to follow the story Johnny Blaze, a daredevil motorcyclist played by Nicholas Cage.
The story begins when, at a young age, Blaze was cursed for life when he made a selfless deal with a stranger in order to save his father from cancer. That stranger turned out to be Satan, and while his dad was cured, he was quickly taken away from young Johnny in a fatal motorcycle accident the next day.
Even though Johnny’s career took off after that, he was a haunted, cursed man: in fact, when called upon, he turns into the “Ghost Rider,” a frightening specter with a flaming skull for a head and a mean bike that literally burns up the road as he passes by.
Johnny Blaze lived his life with the curse of having made a deal with the devil, but his life was definitely not defined by the devil. Even when he was called upon to do the dark one’s bidding, he acted with justice for the oppressed and a compassion for the innocent: hardly the qualities of the devil’s so-called bounty hunter.
I usually don’t like to give away endings, but I cannot resist with this movie. So if you prefer to remain spoiler-free, jump two paragraphs below.
At the end of Ghost Rider, our hero becomes his most selfless. When given the chance to relinquish his curse and live a normal life, Blaze rejects the devil and selflessly takes upon himself a life of hardship so that he can stand for justice and the innocent of the world. What makes this scene so poignant is that, up to that moment in the film, Blaze begged to live a normal life on his own terms and to be free of the curse once and for all. He just didn’t realize that by enduring the curse for the sake of others he was actually living life on his terms after all.
While most of us don’t have the curse of having our heads turn into flaming skulls by night, we all feel “cursed” in one way or another. We feel that there are things we are made to endure; perhaps it’s an illness, perhaps it’s a low-paying job, perhaps it’s a personal, internal struggle. In a sense, we are cursed with our own sins.
The “Ghost Rider” decided to turn his curse into an opportunity. Are we not called to do the same with our own “curses”? In the gospels, Jesus challenges his disciples, “Come, deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) We can wallow in our pain and crosses in life, or we can take hold of the cross and use its experience to better the world.
Even if we are sinful, we are called to use the experience of sin to help others out of their sinfulness. Even if we are beaten down, we are called to use the experience of oppression to act for justice for others. Even if we are in pain, we are called to use the experience of that pain to comfort others in their time of need.
Whatever cross we have been given, we are called to use that experience to help others with their crosses. We are called to act for justice and to walk humbly with our God (cf. Micah 6:8). We are called to be a Ghost Rider for others and set this world on fire with the blaze of compassion and justice.