What I’m Reading: Waking The Dead

A recent interest of mine – and a reoccurring theme in the events of life – has been Greek Mythology, and the larger role of myth in our lives.  I realize that initially, most people will assume that mythology has very little to do with their lives.  But I have come to realize that my life needs a good dose of a mythic element to it.  I will attempt to explain how I arrived at this realization, and why this has anything to do with a book by John Eldredge.

Last year, in anticipation of a trip to Greece and Turkey that took place this past March, I began reading a collection of classic Greek myths.  I’m sure you are at least vaguely familiar with characters such as Jason and the Argonauts, Helen of Troy, Hercules, and the adventures of Odysseus.  I enjoyed reading the full accounts of these stories and began making connections to the larger meaning of these myths in Greek culture.

I also began to understand the role of myth in any given culture.  I posted my thoughts on how understanding mythology might give more insight into the Biblical book of Job.  This connection isn’t normally made because most today misunderstand myth.  For the majority of people, a myth is a fictional story, or even an outright lie – something akin to a fib.  If I say that Job is a mythic story, most will assume that I mean to say that the story of Job never really took place.  But that is not the true meaning of classical mythology.  Myths were ancient attempts to describe what was happening in the spiritual realm, where the gods were at work.  And myths today still serve to connect us to deeper truths and help us recognize where God is still working.

Myths are, first of all, stories: stories which confront us with something transcendent and eternal …  a means by which the eternal expresses itself in time.  (from Waking The Dead)

100 CharactersSo when I read another book, 100 Characters From Classical Mythology, something was tugging deeper at my soul, but I  didn’t know what it was.  I intended to write about the book, but I honestly didn’t know what I would say.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it.

Then one of those moments took place where several seemingly unrelated trails suddenly merged together down a clear path forward.  It happened, appropriately enough, while in Athens, Greece.  Maybe it was spending the day walking among temples to Zeus, theaters to Dionysus, and statues of Poseidon that served as inspiration – I am certain all of that only fueled the inspiration.  But while on that trip, I began reading a book by John Eldredge called Waking The Dead.

One of the unexpected themes to emerge from the book was that when our hearts get overwhelmed with the mundane, the familiar, and busyness, we begin to lose touch with the larger narrative that God is at work in our hearts and we have a role to play in what God is up to in the world around us.  This is why we need to keep the mythic element alive in our hearts.  From Eldredge,

You will not think clearly about your life until you think mythically.  Until you see with the eyes of your heart.

Waking The DeadI realized that my heart was getting bogged down in errands to run, bills to pay, and obligations to meet.  I was losing touch with the larger story I am a part of.  I think that is why reading about the Trojan War and Perseus and Pegasus stirred something in me.  Eldredge helped connect that stirring to the passions God has set in my heart.

Greek mythology may not do much for you, but the principle is the same.  You can view whatever stage of life you are in through the lens of the reality before you – be it sitting in front of a computer screen all day, changing diapers, or paying off school loans.  Or you can view your life with the eyes of your heart and see the larger story you are a part of.  I have determined that I need more of the mythic element in my life.

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Worldviews, Greek Mythology, and Job

I always enjoy when two or three ideas converge to reveal a perspective I had not previously considered.  It is why I tend to read a couple books at a time, often on very different topics.  I just finished reading a book – The Powers That Be – on which I previously shared my thoughts.  One of the ideas that I enjoyed the most was Wink’s breakdown of worldviews.  To summarize:

  • The Ancient Worldview held that everything earthly has its heavenly counterpart and every spiritual reality has physical consequenses.
  • The Materialist Worldview claims that there is no spiritual world, only reason and what can be known through the five senses.
  • The Spiritualist Worldview simply holds that spirit is good and matter is evil.  Gnosticism arises out of this worldview.
  • The Theological Worldview acknowledges both a spiritual world and a material world, but compartmentalize the two, allowing only minimal interaction between them.

From here Wink argues for an Integral Worldview, where it is acknowledged that the spiritual and the material realm interact and what happens in one can affect the other.  Ironically, it seems to me that many Christians unwittingly still hold to the Ancient (fatalistic pre determinism), Spiritualist (the material world doesn’t matter), or Theological (there is a heaven, but it has little bearing on what is happening on earth) worldview.

This brief summary of worldviews helped me greatly as I picked up a book on Greek mythology.  I am only moderately aware of the more well-known Greek gods and the stories behind them.  But reading these stories armed with a better understanding of the ancient worldview has placed Greek mythology in an entirely new setting for me.  These stories are an attempt to make sense of what was happening in the material realm by positing what must have been taking place in the spiritual realm, since the spiritual realm was the real impetus behind temporal events.  Thus when a battle was won or lost, or an empire or individual rose to power, this was only a manifestation of what was happening among the gods.  It was fate!

All this brings me to my reading of the biblical book of Job.  I have read Job many times and it is always a challenge to know where this book fits theologically.  Is it fiction?  Is it a parable?  Is it describing actual events?  Any commentary on Job will wrestle with these questions.  But armed with a fresh perspective on worldviews, I am now convinced that Job falls in the genre of ancient mythology.  Now before anyone gets too fired up, please understand: mythology does not mean that the story being told is a fictional story.  It was long held that the stories of the Trojan wars never really took place until discoveries confirmed that they were actually grounded in real events.  So it can be said that Job took actual events and, through the lens of the ancient worldview, tried to make sense of what must have been driving these events in the spiritual realm.

Which makes the person of Job all the more remarkable.  It is often pointed out that Job was challenging the predominant perspective of his day that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  This is why Job’s friends throughout the book insist that, given the calamities that befall Job, he must have done something wrong.  But I believe that Job was also challenging a much deeper held belief grounded in the ancient worldview: that what was happening to him was being driven by events in the spiritual realm and that it was pointless for him to fight them.  It was fate!  It is at this point that Job does the unthinkable.  Job not only believes that he can argue his case before God, upending the notion that bad things happen to bad people, but that in doing so he can actually intervene in the spiritual realm, bucking the notion of fate.  And it is here that his friends are utterly incensed at Job’s words.

It could be read that in the end God condemns Job for asking for his day in court, but I don’t believe that is what takes place.  In the end it is Job’s friends that are soundly rebuked, while Job is the one interacting with the Almighty.  And in the end, he is rewarded for it.