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.

Gadarene (Mathnawi)

“What do You have to do with us, Most High’s Son?
We are Legion, we are Many; You are One.

What are You going to do, send us away?
Are You here to judge us before that Day?”

The bent-kneed demon faith genuflects in fear,
But O, the sweet peace of the one who now hears:

“Clear out, Legion, that pig-herd I’ll let you kill,
But to this loved son’s soul I say: ‘Peace, be still.’

You may not come with Me now; instead I send
You on My mission to family and friend:

To those with ears to hear and eyes that can see,
Show them all: ‘This is what the Lord did for me.’ ”


Asleep at the Keel (Crescendo)

During the storm
Made from his rebellion
Awoken to face his judgment

During the storm
Sent to foster their faith
Awoken to speak His judgment.

Spent three days in the fish
Facing his sins deserts,
“Salvation is from the Lord GOD!”

Spent three days in Sheol
Facing our sins deserts:
“Salvation is from Storm-Stiller!”


Extraordinarily Appealing Contrasts

Generous and genial, firm and resolute, He was always surprising. Loving but not soppy, His insight unsettled people and His kindness won them. Indeed, He was a man of extraordinary–and extraordinarily appealing–contrasts. You simply couldn’t make Him up, for you’d make Him only one or the other. He made the grandest claims for HImself, yet without a whiff of pomposity. He ransacked the temple, spoke of hellfire, called Herod a fox, the Pharisees pimped-up corpses, and yet never do you doubt His love as you read His life.

— Michael Reeves, Rejoicing in Christ, 52.

John’s Humility

John [the Baptist] effectively said, “One greater than me is coming [v.7].

He is so great, I am not worthy to do what only a Gentile slave would do [v.7].

My baptism is outward with water: a symbol. His baptism is inward with the Spirit: the real thing [v.8].

The One who is coming is mightier than I am! He is more worthy than I am!

He is more powerful than I am! I have touched your body with water.

He will touch your soul with the Holy Spirit!

I know who I am in God’s plan. I know who He is in God’s plan too!”

— Danny Akin, Christ-Centered Expository Commentary: Mark, 8 (line breaks added).