Most of you already know that I participated in a group discussion on The Iliad over on the AO Forum last spring. We wrapped up that book back in May, but I've found myself still chewing on it all these weeks later. The central character in The Iliad is Achilles, considered the quintessential Greek hero. But most of us in the book discussion group had a hard time understanding why he was upheld as such a paragon. To us he appeared to be a selfish, brooding tyrant. What was so wonderful about him? What did the Greeks see in him that we as modern Christian women were just not seeing? Was it a cultural difference? Religious difference? Gender difference? My gut instinct to answer that question was that the difference was because of our belief in the one True God, and perhaps even more specifically because of Christ. Throughout the discussion, many of us noted that we were grateful to serve a God that we could rely on to be Faithful and True in contrast with the capricious nature of the Greek gods and goddesses that were 'running the show' behind the scenes in The Iliad.
Shortly after finishing our Iliad study, I picked up John Mark Reynolds' When Athens Met Jerusalem and have been very slowly working my way through that. With these thoughts about the contrasting natures of our God and the Greek pantheon in the back of my mind, I found Reynolds' comments about Homer very interesting:
"Homer taught human beings to fear the gods - not in the Judeo-Christian sense of awe and love, but in terms of terror. His great study of the Trojan War, The Iliad, begins in war and ends there. His is a hard view of reality, skeptical about progress from humans who are born into pointless struggle with gods and nature, a torment that does not even end in death….Homer, the greatest Greek poet and mythmaker, pictured gods who used humans as playthings in the famous Trojan War. The war began with a petty quarrel between the gods to determine which of the female deities was the fairest, and it grew to swallow up human heroes. The irrationality of the war was matched by the futility of human existence itself. Mortal man was doomed to die. Unlike the beasts, humans were aware of their own immortality, but strive as they might, they could not overcome it. Humans could not escape their fate no matter how powerful their passions. The first word of Homer's Iliad, the magnificent poem about the Trojan War, can be translated 'divine wrath'. The Greek hero Achilles possesses this godlike passion and was the ideal warrior. His anger, so potent it condemns hundreds of Greeks to death, does nothing but destroy everything he loves. He is man with only one weakness, the famous Achilles' heel, but that is enough. He falls. He is merely a man."
~John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem
Isn't that fascinating? The world that Homer pictures is a world of chaos, hopelessness and futility, no matter how hard one may strive. Achilles was the great hero in that world because he reflected the 'godlike passions' that acted according to whim and used those around him as pawns. We find that repulsive because in Christianity, we have an orderly world ruled over by an unchanging, Sovereign God. We have a 'future and a hope'. And the model we set before us as an ideal is Jesus Christ Himself who 'did not consider equality with God to be grasped' but humbled Himself to death on the cross in the place of sinners.
God sending His Son into the world to save sinners – this changes everything.