Homer, the Odyssey and the Gospel, Part 4 – Unbelief and Doubt

Unknown-1In this final post on Homer’s Odyssey and the gospel, we’ll explore the nature of faith and unbelief. (see part one here, part two here, and part three here).

As Homer’s tale comes to an end, we find a moment of high comedy. It is a vivid picture of the relationship between doubt, reason, evidence, and belief. Odysseus has returned. He has cleansed his house. What remained was his reunion with Penelope.

When first told of his return, it is understandable that Penelope struggled with unbelief and doubt. Her reaction to the news spanned the panoply of human emotions. Upon first hearing the news her “heart leapt up.” Hope awakened. But disbelief quickly reared its head. It cannot be. He’s been gone too long. He’s probably dead at sea. Her maid next provided first hand evidence. “I’ve touched him and seen the scar on his leg. He is waiting for you now.” Still Penelope was skeptical. She must see this man for herself. She went to the man who is her long-lost husband and stood before him, unconvinced. The scene turns comical. Long-lost husband to unbelieving wife: “What a strange women you are!” Unbelieving wife to long-lost husband: “What a strange man you are!” And finally, she is convinced by Odysseus that he is who he says as information is supplied that only Odysseus could know.

Penelope was rightly skeptical of the news of her husband’s return after twenty years with no news whatsoever. Odysseus too, lovingly and appropriately was patient with her, eventually supplying the needed evidence. As the barriers to belief crumbled, they embraced and all was well.

Today, it has become commonplace for well-meaning but unwise Christians to reply with a smile to the sincere seeker or young believer with “Just believe” or “All you need is faith.” Such responses are as naïve as they are wrong. Jesus never asks us to come to him apart from reason. Faith in God is reasonable. It is an evidence-based belief. Jesus meets us where we are and gently prods us forward. For Thomas it was touching nail pierced hands (John 20:25). For others, it was explaining prophecy (Luke 24:13-27) or pointing to miracles performed (Matt. 11:3-6). Jesus always meets us at our point of unbelief. So should we when dealing with the skeptic as well as the Christian who has sincere questions. Christianity can handle it.

Why is it worthwhile to read the classics, such as Homer’s Odyssey, of the Western world? Because they point us, if we pay attention, to a deeper reality that is the gospel. They awaken within us universal human longings that lead us, like a kind of Ontological Argument, to the ultimate object of our desire, God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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