As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I’ve started reading a series of works that have commonly been called The Classics or Western Classics, etc. Basically, these are writings that have shaped the Western World in some way or another (positive or negative – The Bible is included as is Hitler’s Mein Kampf in most lists). There are a number of different lists out that that one can look at for what are the essential works, also called The Great Books, though some are not books but pamphlets, speeches, and various other documents. I’ll share 2 lists from here and here. The first included a reasoning for reading these works.
So, I am reading the Great Books, though I did skip The Epic of Gilgamesh (I read it in High School, but mainly, I skipped it because I didn’t check the lists before starting!). I finished Homer’s Iliad a little over a week ago and I wanted to blog about it. But, what should be said? What can be said in such a short writing as a blog post? I could review the story line for those who haven’t read it, but that doesn’t really help me to think through why reading The Iliad is important, so I’ve chosen to attempt to compare the worldview that seems to be present in The Iliad with the Christian worldview.
First, how do the gods of the Greeks/Trojans differ from the Christian God. Well, besides the Triune nature of the God fo the Bible, there are a number of differences. For one, the Greek gods are not absolutely sovereign over the affairs of this world. Gods can be tricked by each other or even by humans. The gods can be at odds over the fate of the world, thus there are several scenes in the Iliad in which the gods are phyically attacking one another or simply debating over the fate of the Trojans and Achaians (the Greeks). At one point, Hera (also known as Juno) takes Diana’s(Artemis’) bow (as in bow and arrows) away and hits her over the head with it, publicly shaming the other goddess. Quite a little cat fight, huh? Instead of the order and mutual submission within the Triune God, we see something closer akin to High School feuds. Though it is said that none can stand against Zeus a few times within the text, he is, not for the first or last time, tricked by other gods.
The gods also have children; This is accomplished through procreation with each other or with mortals. This is obviously something altogether different from the eternal begotten One, Jesus, the Son of God. The Bible does not call Jesus “the Son” because the Father had sex with a woman or goddess (though Muslims often misunderstand the title Son of God to mean exactly that blasphemous idea). Instead, the Biblical title “the Son of God” illustrates that Jesus is of the same substance as the Father and is the appointed ruler for the Father. It also shows that there has been an eternal relationship between Jesus and the Father. The Son has always been the Son and the Father has always been the Father because they have always co-existed within the Godhead…an for eternity they have never disagreed or attacked one another!
The sons of gods in The Iliad are indeed mortal, and many of these children of the gods perished in the battle between Greece and Troy. Some were mourned deeply by their god-parents, some were actually whisked away safely from danger by their divine father or mother. At points, a god or goddess would debate over whether they should save their child, and the main reason for not doing so was because they didn’t want the deities with whom they were at odds to have an excuse to rescue their respective child…great parenting, eh. At one point, Zeus orders that his son Sarpedon must die because the Fates (mysterious, but determining of all history, beings) decree that he must die. This is a picture of a deity resigning to fate his son. Some might see this is similar to the Christian story of God the Father giving up Jesus his son, but this is nowhere near the truth. For the God of the Bible has complete control – there are no Fates controlling man’s destiny, but the Father does this. The God of the Bible doesn’t give his Son to die because He could not prevent it, quite the contrary, He could have prevented it, but it was His OWN GOOD WILL to give up Jesus to die in order to rescue humanity. He did not choose to whisk Jesus away from danger like Mars (the Greek god of war) does in the Iliad. God the Father decrees the death of Jesus.
Today, open theists and those who would deny penal substitution seem to confuse the God of the Bible with Zeus or some other deity. On the one hand, the open theists argue that the Father couldn’t stop the crucifixion. Perhaps the Fates doomed Jesus to die, or at least Satan was tricky enough to fool the Father. Those who deny PS, on the other hand, argue that is was Jesus’ life example that frees us, so if we just seek to live like a son of the gods, then we’ll be enlightened or please the deities. Others in this camp argue that Jesus’ death only disarmed the enemy’s rule over us instead of also paying our debt. Perhaps they look towards Achilles as the archetype for Jesus. Achilles was fated to die, and until he did so, the Greeks were unable to have victory over the Trojans (though much of this part of the story is not included in the Iliad). Thus, we just needed God to help us win, not to actually forgive or change us from the inside out. I’m not saying that the worldview of many who possess what I would call “erring” theologies is an exact repetition of the early Greeks, but I am saying that when we begin to compare what the Bible teaches in full about the Son of God, you see some striking differences between both Homer and current lacking christologies.
I know some of you have read/studies more about current atonement theories. Would you add some thoughts here when you get a chance. Perhaps I misrepresented one view or the other. Let me know, brothers.