Over this past Easter weekend, I began reading The Iliad by Homer. Perhaps you once read it (or parts of it) in college, or perhaps due to an unfortunate Hollywood remake, the characters are familiar enough, but you’d never volunteer to retell the story without help from a Petra 10th grader (who, by the way, has read and studied the whole thing, as well its sequel, The Odyssey).
When or if you’ve read a little or a lot of Homer’s war ballad is not germane to my discussion here, for while this forum purports to be a home to scholars, one does not need to be one to make this observation: the pantheon of gods of Homer is very different from the Trinity of the Bible. On the heels of Easter (and in anticipation of our school’s upcoming Resurrection Feast celebrating it this Friday), let me just put it this way: Zeus is no match for Jesus.
[In The Iliad] sometimes the gods serve as “comic relief” (as in the laughs at the expense of the disabled god: Hephaestus) or as characters in the action (Aphrodite, goddess of beauty fights!). Other times Zeus, the chief god, is associated with a divine will greater (it seems) than the actions of the character named Zeus in the story…The “gods” of The Iliad are not the same kind of being as the “god” of the New Testament…they are not essentially different than humanity, though they have qualities we do not. They are more like super heroes, than “gods.”
The God of the New Testament is omnipotent, omniscient, and is essential “other than” His creation. We can debate whether such a being can exist (and philosophers of religion do), but if He does exist, then He is not just Zeus on steroids. Zeus (as pictured in most of The Iliad) is like humanity in having a beginning, a potential “end” (at least as chief of the gods), and is comprehensible. We might fear Zeus, but He is not worthy of worship.
Literary value aside, reading and studying The Iliad helps us recognize that we do the same thing Homer does: we tend to anthropomorphize God/the gods and talk about him/them as if human, which is the absolute last thing any of us really (truly) wants. Rather than meet the Jesus of the Bible on his mysterious terms, we reduce him to our less mysterious ones, making him little more than a DC Comics character with motivating superpower (love), fundamental flaw (preoccupation with holiness), and sense of obligation to humanity (saving it from itself).
But because God does mighty deeds, more than just worship him, we believe we can know him. As the depth of one’s character is displayed by his or her actions consistently over time, so it is with God. Scripture is divine revelation, for every page communicates what our God is like, not just because it contains propositional statements summarizing his personality, but because it also tells the story of his mighty redemptive acts woven throughout the tapestry of kingdom history.
We see throughout Israel’s history that the mighty acts of God are important to their understanding of him, as well as essential to them in knowing him. The prologue to the Decalogue brings this point out clearly. Exodus 20:1-3 says, “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.’” It is precisely because God has acted in history, and performed mighty deeds in doing so, that God’s people obey the first commandment and know God.
We know God not just by what he says about himself, but also by what he has done; we see his sovereignty in his act of creation, his carrying out of his redemptive plan in Jesus’ commanding nature and biology to obey him; we see his graciousness and patience in never abandoning his people, despite our hearts that are so prone to wander; we see his faithfulness through his keeping of his covenant promises over thousands of years; we see his love in his blessing his covenant people and his mercy in bearing our wrath and shame on the cross. God’s mighty deeds make a transcendent God immanently present to his creatures, for without them he would be unknowable.
Easter reminds us that Jesus is more than a super man, more than a super hero; he is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the One who was, who is, and is to come (Revelation 1:8). He is not a Zeus-like deity of temper tantrums and malicious machinations carried out at our expense; he is the Source of no greater love than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (Luke 15:13), and he calls and empowers us to do the same in his name.
A celebration of this Jesus – of this non-Superman, non-Zeus Jesus – is Whom our K4-12th graders will celebrate at our Resurrection Feast on Friday. I’m grateful to get to do so with them.
(Friday’s Resurrection Feast will be our third and final feast of the school year. All the food has been donated, but we still need 30 parents to pick it up, prepare, and serve it on Friday. Parents, please contact Beth Stohlmann today and let her know how you can help.)