Homer, the Odyssey, and the Gospel, Part 1- Our Quest for More

imagesPeanut butter and jelly . . . chips and dip . . . Homer and the gospel. Wait, Homer and the gospel? How do they go together, you ask? Good question! Homer is to the gospel as longings are to their proper object. Homer prompts, prods, and points to the gospel as man’s greatest need and highest good in at least four ways.

In this first of four posts, I’ll share how Homer’s Odyssey awakens us to live for a cause greater than self.

Odysseus had it all: King of Ithaca, husband to beautiful Penelope, father to Telemachus, and lord of a lush and richly provisioned palace. Still, he longed for more. He longed for greatness and set out on what would become a twenty-year journey to find it.

Why did he go? There is something good and right about Odysseus’s parting and something troubling. It is good and right that Odysseus didn’t settle, repressing that part of him that, as C. S. Lewis puts it, “longs for the rainbow’s end.” His heart was restless. His longings were unfulfilled. So he set out on a quest for more. It is troubling that he continued to seek the same this-worldly goods—fame, fortune, and success—by the same means of human effort and power. In the story all ends well, but in life, these this-worldly goods will never ultimately satisfy.

We too aim for this-worldly goods and think once grasped, happiness and contentment will follow. The Bible has a word for this: idolatry. We take created things, good things even, and make them ultimate things, pressing them to provide a delight they were not made to bring. There is a word too for the idea that we can complete this quest on our own strength and wit and determination: presumption. Switching to a contemporary metaphor, the quest for happiness through human effort is like being a running back ten yards from a perpetually receding end zone: always in sight but forever out of reach.

The subversive message of the Kingdom of God is that happiness comes not from doing, but from being, not from earning but from receiving, not from living but from dying. The path to true happiness passes through the cross and requires, paradoxically, the abandonment of our pursuit of happiness. On the other side of the cross all the good things of the world—work, projects, relationships, sensual pleasure—are seen in their proper context as gifts meant to be enjoyed and employed in creaturely response as we share in the happiness God gives.

 

 

3 Responses to Homer, the Odyssey, and the Gospel, Part 1- Our Quest for More

  1. Pingback: Homer, the Odyssey, and the Gospel, Part 2 - Our longing for Home | Paul Gould

  2. Pingback: Homer, the Odyssey and the Gospel, Part 3 - Beggars at the Palace | Paul Gould

  3. Pingback: Homer, the Odyssey and the Gospel, Part 4 - Unbelief and Doubt | Paul Gould

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