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The Oddness in ‘The Odyssey’

My oldest son loves stories of knights and dragons, but he drew the line a few nights ago as we read to him the tale of Odysseus and the Cyclops from The Odyssey of Homer. The terrifying one-eyed giant devouring Odysseus’ hapless crewmates brought my son to tears. He couldn’t understand why a hero hadn’t intervened yet, why help hadn’t come. Something about the world in this story was very wrong. Very strange. Very…odd.

“I don’t want to hear any more!” he pleaded.

Around the breakfast table two days later we discussed the world of Homer. The Odyssey, like many classic stories, is so much more than just a story. It is a window into a worldview. We peered through that window together over our bowls of cereal and began to identify what it was that felt so strange and wrong with the world on the other side.

Homer’s world has a few familiar and noble elements: courage, love of family, commitment, sacrifice, resourcefulness, etc. These virtues play out, however, in a universe very unlike our own. Fear reigns supreme in the world of Homer. Petty demi-gods lurk around every corner, in the sky, and in the sea. Malice, capriciousness, treachery and deception await the lonesome traveler and conspire against him. Monsters and magic appear and vanish without reason and often with overpowering strength. Survival requires cunning, bravery, and lots of luck. In short, it is a world without God. Lots of gods, but no God. No self-sacrificing, good, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God. No Gospel hope. No eternal security. No ever-present help in time of need. No place to shelter the soul in times of tragedy. No transcendent moral compass.

For Homer, honor is the highest virtue, glory the highest purpose. Western Civilization was defined by these ideas for well over a millennium – and the influence remains strong to this day.

I am convinced that one under-appreciated blessing of reading the Bible is the way it shapes our worldview. It can be a temptation to view the Bible as a spiritual encyclopedia for looking up answers to specific questions. We treat the Bible as if the table of contents were something like:

How to Believe in Jesus

Bad Stuff Not to Do

Good Stuff to Do

Psalms to Make You Feel Better

Scary Stories to Make Your Kids Obey

But this isn’t how God structured His revelation to us. Instead, He gave us a doctrine-saturated history of reality. To read the Bible is to listen in as the architect of the universe explains the blueprints and the function of this world. Every aspect of life, from the most exhilarating to the most mundane, is to be understood, to be interpreted, by our Bible-based conception of reality. We submit our minds, our hearts, our sensory experiences to the words of Scripture. And we find that the biblical worldview rings true.

A biblical world is not without its “monsters” and “magic,” but it places all these things beneath the throne of the true and living God. The world is not a place to fear. Our lives are not measured by how long we nobly endure in the face of random adversity or by how long our deeds are sung around banqueting tables.

Our lives are to be dominated by love. A love the Bible shows us. A love of God that sent His Son to die for us when we were His enemies. A love for others that flows from gratitude to God. A love for the world which, though marred by sin, still shimmers with the delights its Creator gifted to the Created.

For Homer, men die for the hope to be well remembered.

For us, we live in the joy of a well-remembered hope.

How tragic that this worldview of Good News is the one so many still consider odd.

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