One of the books I’ve dipped in and out of lately is The Iliad; don’t worry, I’ve not converted to polytheism, cast aside my salvation – if such a thing were even possible – or started worshipping Zeus, I just have a literary interest in the book. In the early chapters, after a rather large tiff between Achilles and King Agamemnon, Achilles’ mother heads up to Mount Olympus to petition Zeus on her son’s behalf. What happens next was most amusing; Zeus, the big daddy of all the Greek deities, is not at home. He can’t answer her petitions because he’s off at war, but should be back within the week. She’s given the deistic equivalent of an out of office auto reply.
Zeus, you see, is neither omniscient, omnipresent nor omnipotent. In spite of his fearsome reputation in myths Zeus was never more than a poky provincial deity. I mean, really? “Sorry, the known world can manage itself for the moment while I go off and have a fight.” That is the best the myths can offer us? A God whose power is based on limited availability? It got worse as he explained that it was a tricky situation and he was trying not to tick off one of the ex-wives because she tended towards the angry side when things didn’t go her way.
We can learn something important from Zeus. Homer wrote The Illiad at roughly the same time that the prophet Isaiah was foretelling the suffering and resurrection of Christ; the intellectual argument that our ideas of God evolved and developed from each other can’t stand when the monotheistic Jewish theology existed concurrently. The big difference is that Zeus is a god made in man’s image.
I can relate to Zeus. I’ve never lived up a mountain but he seems like a fairly human fellow, has those moments when he’s just not there, tries to placate the anger of others, lets his actions be dictated by not wanting to get on the wrong side of people. All very human traits. Christ on the other hand, the visible image of the invisible God, comes in human form and faces human problems but does so without any whiff of error or lack of power. God may have became like us in form, but never in failing.
When we make ourselves gods in our own image, be they literal gods like Zeus and the Olympians or everyday things elevated to god-like status in our lives, they can never ever meet our need for the real thing. There is a longing deep inside that other things just can’t fill, a thirst for something more.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
– Ecclesiastes 3:11
Zeus and the Olympians provided the world with some great works of literature, some magnificent myths and stories, but they could never provide real answers to the problems of mankind. Any and all things we elevate to the status of a god in our lives inevitably must go the same way. Try as we may, there is nothing in this world that can act as a substitute for the real thing; we have a hole in our very make up that only God, Yahweh, can possibly fill.
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
– C.S Lewis
We can put our trust, our hope, and our reliance on many things. It could be finance, relationships, job security, all of the usual suspects – but the truth is that all of those things can fail us. The only safe place for our trust and reliance is Jesus Christ.
Jesus is, as the author of the letter to Hebrews says, the anchor of our soul. So often throughout history we have fallen into the trap of creating gods in our own image – and perhaps in this era of relativism and reason people have reached the pinnacle of this error in elevating the self to that status – but the truth is that Zeus passed, Jupiter, Odin, every false deity and imagined power has proved ultimately powerless. Every thing we give the attention, focus and adoration that should be reserved only for God will fail us too.
When it comes to a storm, those things can, and do, fail and the only way to stand is in Christ alone. He is never out of office, never away from the throne; He is always there, always loving, always has the power to act. Jesus is not only better than the false gods of the past, but He’s better than the things we elevate in the present too. If we need real help? There is always, and only, Jesus.