Tag Archives: Beowulf

Is the World of “Beowulf” More Christian than America Today?

Every person and every age has its own understanding of the relationship between good and evil. America is known as the great “melting pot,” indicating the infusion and assimilation of many people and ideas from the entire world into one country. This has led to the diversity and breadth of beliefs that can be seen in America today, most of them unbiblical. Writing in a likely unchristianized Britain in the late first century, the “Beowulf” poet, seemingly as a Christian, held a view of good and evil that was probably not typical of the time. Although his view may not have been typical of the age, the “Beowulf” poet’s view of good and evil is more Biblical than that of American culture today.

To understand where the poet and the culture aligned with and have strayed from the truth of the relationship between good and evil, a study of truth itself would be in order. The Bible repeatedly states that God and God alone is perfect – every aspect of His nature is wholly and utterly good. This means that anything contrary to His nature is not good, for it is not God. Humanity cannot hope to meet God’s standards. As Romans 3:10 states, “No one is righteous, no not one.” Humanity is fallen and incapable of doing any good, and when life is over, God will judge our lives and we will see that our supposed “good deeds” are as filthy rags in His sight and really worth nothing at all. Only by salvation through His Son may we escape eternal judgment. As C. S. Lewis once said, “No good work is done anywhere without aid from the Father of Lights.” Such is the standard that humanity can never attain – if our good deeds are as rags, what must our wicked deeds be in His eyes?

The culture has many points of view on the relationship between good and evil – as many, it seems, as there are people who make up the culture. However, there are some predominant themes that seem to rule American culture as a whole. In a relativistic society, there is no true meaning to the word good, as there is no meaning to the word evil. Good seems to mean something that helps others, promotes popular causes, or supports popular ideologies. In America today, it seems to be very hard to do anything evil at all. The end justifies the means in our world – if the end result was “good”, it doesn’t matter how one gets there. This belief is reflected widely across our culture though the various forms of entertainment, specifically mass entertainment. As long as one doesn’t hurt another in the process, it never was really bad in the first place. However, as askew as America is today, it is not completely off the mark. A corrupt politician exploiting the citizens of his district for financial gain and power plays is universally disdained. Nothing is more despised than one who hurts another for his own personal benefit. An overwhelmingly large percentage of Americans believe in some kind of eternal reward, but the popular conception of heaven is not quite the paradise as described in the Bible. “As long as I’m not terribly bad, or at least more good then bad, God wouldn’t send me to Hell,” they say. Yes, the culture does acknowledge Hell, but they reserve it almost exclusively for the Hitlers and Stalins of this world. As can be seen, the culture has strayed dramatically from the Biblical view of good and evil and is not likely to return anytime soon.

The “Beowulf” poet had a view that is more similar to the Bible’s as compared to that of the culture’s perspective. “Beowulf” does not deal so much with goodness as much as the evil that dwells within this world. Within humanity, the poet frequently calls people “good” when referring to their physical or behavioral characteristics. People that are “good” within the poet’s story are those that are strong and powerful or good to others, most notably those who are unselfish, self-sacrificing, and generous. The poet also acknowledges that God is both sovereign and powerful as well as good on many occasions. The poet also has a very well-defined view of evil as well. The list may seem rather similar to the culture’s list: murder, cruelty, and other things that seem to unjustly hurt others. Then a surprising addition pops up. According to the poet, striving against God is a terrible evil (lines 106 – 114) and condemns worship of idols, calling Satan “the killer of souls.” Regarding eternity, God is the judge of the deeds of mankind, says the poet (lines 180 – 188), but we are left to guess whether or not the God of the poet’s world is as just as the God of the Bible or if it rather like the wishy-washy god of the culture.

God alone is the standard of perfection and the judge of all things. While the culture takes an elastic stance on the issue, the Biblical standard of good and evil is inflexible and unyielding. “Beowulf” falls somewhere in between The “Beowulf” poet seems rather undecided – sometimes mirroring the Bible and other times mimicking modern culture – and eventually lands with view of good and evil that is markedly more Biblical than that of American culture today.

Advertisements

The Perfect Hero

Beowulf. Batman. Brad Pitt. The idea of a hero conjures up many images in the mind that may run the gamut from the demigods of ancient Greece to the celebrities of pop culture. From supermodels to superhumans, we as a culture lack any real definition for the term “hero” and use it with little care. A true hero is a magnificent tapestry woven of many fine and beautiful threads composed of different qualities and character traits. Unfortunately, the cultural heroes of today have at best only bits and pieces of the larger puzzle. Only in the person of Jesus do all the heroic qualities come together to form a true and perfect hero. If the Bible is the Word of God, and if God is perfect, then Christ, who is God and who followed the Scriptures perfectly, is the absolute standard for perfection and for being a perfect hero. Although the different qualities are widespread, they can be divided into three separate and distinct qualities: the hero’s relationship to good and evil, his relationship to others, and his relationship to God and truth.

A hero must have a proper view of good and evil if he is to be considered a true hero. To be considered a true hero, as Christ is, a hero must fight for what is good, right, and true. Although this seems perhaps overly fundamental, this is, in fact, crucial. If heroes are pictures of Christ, how can one be called a hero when he is blatantly antagonistic to Biblical values? Digging deeper, the method one uses to fight is almost, if not just as, important as the side on which one chooses to fight. Many “heroes” of today, such as the infamous Jack Bauer, are not known for always choosing good over evil when both options are presented. Heroes over the ages have resorted to less than Biblical techniques to complete their mission or satisfy their desires. If Jesus, the perfect and sinless man, is our standard for a perfect hero, however, then it is easily seen how the belief that the end justifies the means is a seriously flawed one.

A hero wouldn’t be a hero if he was the only person is the world. It is vital that the prospective hero also has the correct view of how to interact with other human beings. When the Lord was present on this earth, He demonstrated many qualities that add to the tapestry of the perfect hero. In an age where our idols are often too cruel or too lenient, the true Hero knew when to show mercy and when to exercise justice. A hero must also be wholly honest and trustworthy. Why would people put their hopes in one who they knew to spin lies? Furthermore, just as Christ was humble despite great authority and power, a hero must demonstrate a similar trait. Celebrities and superheroes alike often show a destructive tendency towards a cocky, prideful vanity that is infinitely removed from the demeanor of Christ while on this earth. Self-sacrificial love is an essential component of humility that was vividly portrayed in the life of Christ, especially in His death on the cross. Although God does not call most heroes to die in such a tragic way for others such as Sidney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities, He does call them to have the will to do such a thing if it was necessary.

Finally, the most important, and perhaps the most overlooked, set of qualities is the hero’s relationship to God and truth. If a hero has an incorrect understanding of God and truth, he is not a hero at all. There are many men and women, many of whose names are unknown to the world, who have quietly worked for the glory of God’s kingdom on earth from behind-the-scenes for their entire life without receiving recognition for their efforts, and have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to humility. God calls heroes to be above reproach in all areas of their life and obedient to Him in all things. If one misses this factor, he misses the entire point of the qualities of a hero.

But whether it’s Mario or Link rushing off to save the princess yet again and somehow saving the world in the process, or your friendly neighborhood Spiderman just settling for New York City, the heroes that we admire as a culture are the saviors of their people, just as Christ is the Savior of all those who are predestined to adoption as sons. While anybody can exhibit heroic qualities from time to time, only Jesus fully exhibits all the qualities of a hero all the time to their fullest degree. Only Jesus has the wholly correct view of good and evil. Only He relates to others perfectly. And only He serves God without any mistakes. Therefore Christ is the only perfect hero and we are called to imitate Him. The term “Christian” means “little Christ”. As we strive to model our behavior after Christ, the one and only true Hero, we have become His representatives on earth and are “little heroes” after His image.