Jesus is Not Zeus

51evl1wm86l-_sx342_bo1204203200_

I’ve been reading through Richmond Lattimore’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey. I first read the Odyssey in high school, but it’s interesting to me to read it now that high school is twenty years gone (!).

One of the things that stands out to me throughout the Odyssey is how awful the Olympian gods are. Odysseus is caught in the middle of Poseidon’s grudge, Zeus’ sadism, and Athene’s favoritism. He is frequently called “son of Laertes, seed of Zeus,” yet Zeus shows a decided lack of fatherly affection (or even concern) for his offspring.

Odysseus is left to the mercy of vengeful, petty, distractable, and promiscuous deities.

Jesus is not Zeus.

The Trinity is not Zeus.

And that makes all the difference in the world!

Compare the vindictiveness and pettiness of Zeus and Poseidon with the true, living God:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1 CSB).

“I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me” (John 17:23 CSB).

Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen (Jude 24-25).

The LORD your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will be quiet in his love. He will delight in you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17 CSB).

We are not God’s playthings. He does not toy with us out of pleasure in jerking us around. He does not delight in judgment but mercy; His pleasure is in forgiveness, not damnation.

So often, though, we think and believe the opposite. We think, “I have to be good so God will give me enough money for the bills this month.” “I better read two chapters of the Bible today, since I didn’t read anything yesterday.” “I need to be really obedient these next few days so God will be happy enough with me to give me the promotion I’m applying for at work.” “That didn’t work out because God was getting back at me for sinning so bad yesterday.”

In Christ, we are loved, not left; we are delighted in, not dramatized; we are endeared to God, not His entertainment.

Asimov’s Three Laws

This video from Computerphile has an interesting discussion. In it, computer scientist and artificial intelligence (AI) expert Rob Miles discusses how the three laws of robotics aren’t realistic or feasible.

The late Isaac Asimov is a world-renowned science fiction author who created a set of three laws that “robots” (or, AI in general) must abide by to prevent them from taking over the world a la Terminator.

The first law is that AI must act in such a way as to keep humans from harm. The problem from a programming standpoint, according to Miles, is that you have to define “human.”

At this point, the discussion is no longer a properly scientific discussion (which Miles acknowledges in a very roundabout way). It’s certainly sad that there has to be a debate whether an “unborn fetus” (which he calls an “unborn person” seconds later, seemingly by accident) is a human or not. But the discussion is no longer within the realm of science. We’re now in the arena of theology and philosophy.

Something that seems to be so clearly “science”—computers and programming and technology—so quickly veers off into the arenas of metaphysics (what is), ethics (what ought to be), and epistemology (what do you know and how do you know it).

Another comment Miles made struck me as well: “You have to solve ethics [before you can program the first law].” The entire video is dismissive of the three laws as outdated, obsolete, and unuseful, and this reinforces his point. We cannot create something and program it with ethics, because we don’t have all the answers (first of all), and we can’t program intuition. We intuitively know what a “human” is, but we can’t quantify it and program it.

And yet, God can. He did, in fact.

He has given His law to some in verbal form to some (Israel); He has given it to everyone in the testimony of what He has made. The problem is not that we don’t or can’t know metaphysics and ethics. God has given us the answers, both in His word and in His creation. We’re just not smart enough or powerful enough or creative enough to do it ourselves.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.
There is no speech; there are no words;
their voice is not heard.
Their message has gone out to the whole earth,
and their words to the ends of the world (Psalm 19:1-4a CSB).

Psalm 19 declares that though there is no audible or written communication in Creation, what God has made continually declares His glory to us. No one is immune. No one escapes. The message of creation–that there is a God with eternal power and divine nature–reaches to the ends of the whole world, so that people have no excuse (Romans 1:20).

Our problem is not simply that we can’t create robots into people with full-fledged ethics in place (although that’s enough to show us our finitude). Our problem is that our own ethics is corrupt and broken. We are so shot through with sin and corruption that we need to be rescued from the destruction of judgment.

We need to be far more afraid of the Ancient of Days calling the world to judgment by the Man He has appointed—Jesus, whom He raised from the dead—than Terminators and Skynet turning WiFi against us. Our own internal programming is broken; we need to be re-coded—reborn—by the Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

 

With or Just Watching?

binoculars-1423841-639x855

Truly he did not know if the gods were with him, though he was sure they were watching, which was not quite the same thing.

— Sigurd Haraldarson, in Giles Kristian’s God of Vengeance, 242.

I’ve mentioned before how reading Viking historical fiction highlights for me the superiority of Yahweh, the true and Triune God, over any other pretender deity.

Having started Kristian’s prequel series The Rise of Sigurd, the same is still true. The Norsemen are constantly trying to earn the gods’ attention, and if they succeed, there is no guarantee that Odin Allfather will look favorably with his one eye.

In the hall of Jarl Guthorm, Sigurd boasts that the gods are with him, and thus Guthorm should support his mission of vengeance. But the boast is largely empty, because “he did not know if the gods were with him.” He only had confidence that they were watching, but it was cold comfort.

Compare that empty hopelessness with the declarations of Yahweh Himself:

This is what the LORD says:

Heaven is My throne,
and earth is My footstool.
What house could you possibly build for Me?
And what place could be My home?
My hand made all these things,
and so they came into being.

This is the LORD’s declaration.

I will look favorably on this kind of person:
one who is humble, submissive in spirit,
and trembles at My word (Isaiah 66:1-2 HCSB).

The promise of Zechariah 4 is that God does not miss even the smallest act of trust in Him:

These seven eyes of the LORD, which scan throughout the earth, will rejoice when they see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand (Zechariah 4:10 HCSB).

The foundation of confidence is that

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,
and His ears are open to their cry for help (Psalm 34:15 HCSB).

Sigurd knew the gods were there, watching. He did not know if they were with him. He did not know if they were for him.

Yahweh is there, and He is watching, too. We don’t have to do anything to catch His attention. But He’s more than just watching:

Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the LORD your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6 HCSB).

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14 HCSB).

See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name Him Immanuel,
which is translated ‘God is with us’ (Matthew 1:23 HCSB).

‘And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20 HCSB).

Remember that He is greater and more powerful than any other, but He is kind and compassionate and Immanuel—God is with us.

Viking Sagas

I recently finished two excellent historical fiction series: Lars Walker’s Erling Skjalgsson saga (review here) and Giles Kristian’s Raven series. I read the first book of the Raven series, then the Erling Skjalgsson saga, then the last two books of the Raven series.

Both stories are about proud Viking warriors and the struggle between the old ways of Norse mythology and the “new” worship of Jesus. While Kristian’s Raven is a “none” at the beginning, he adopts the Norse pantheon as his own and remains hostile to the “White Christ” and His followers throughout the tale. Walker’s Aillill agrees to be a priest at the beginning merely to save his own hide, but grows into both the faith and his role as a priest. Each story presents its main character’s faith in as strong and honest terms as possible, and the comparison is telling.

Raven and the Wolfpack fiercely defend their beliefs and their gods against the Christian Englishmen and the African Muslims, but they consistently reveal that their devotion is rarely mutual. Men perform rituals and habits for the sake of maybe getting Odin or Thor or Loki or Tyr to notice them and help them. There is no confidence in their help, only a shot-in-the-dark wish. They even question whether their gods will notice them in faraway Constantinople.

On the contrary, Father Aillill finds Jesus consistently faithful and dependable–far more than he expects, and certainly far more than he deserves. The Wolfpack do everything they can to merit divine help; Aillill makes clear time and again that he does not merit anything good, and time and again receives it.

What you believe matters, because the one(s) you believe in matter(s). Odin and Thor are elilim–no-gods, nothings. They have, at best, limited reach and fickle wills. Yahweh, on the other hand, is God above all gods; the song of the saints is “Who among the gods is like You?” There is no limit to His reach, and His will never changes.

Kristian’s storytelling is excellent, and you genuinely care about the Wolfpack. You can’t help but admire Sigurd; you can’t help but love and laugh along with the brutes. But for me at least, I couldn’t help but noticing how helpless and hopeless they were without Jesus.

Good fiction accomplishes a lot. It reveals so much that we might otherwise ignore via direct statement. I was once as helpless and hopeless as Raven and the Wolfpack, but the true God of Aillill saved me and has been faithful to me all along. He is the only hope for those around me who are as helpless and hopeless as I was, and I may be the undeserving, unwitting, and stumbling priest who shows the way.