Myth and Christianity

 

Caveat: The following short piece on myth is from a Christian perspective. But even if you do not agree with its perspective, what the author says about myth may be helpful.


"
Myth Became History"

by Jill Carattini

 

Many voices have been heard in the last few centuries speaking of Christianity, if not religion in general, as a psychological crutch. The idea is that time has moved forward such that we have outgrown the superstition, and along with it, the need to explain life and comfort ourselves with archaic religious myth. And though by equating religion with "myth" some mean to suggest that religion is fanciful and untrue, the comparison between Christianity and the genre of myth is absolutely fascinating. In fact, it is a comparison C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton found altogether fitting, altogether revealing.

 

Lewis recognized the great Greek, Roman, and Nordic myths as being a genre of narrative that wrestled as fiercely as the human heart can wrestle with its yearning to know the gods. In this, he reasoned that what we glean from the myth is not truth but reality, as myths concern themselves with questions of ultimate reality and theological inquiry. One pictures Sisyphus rolling the great stone up the hill, only to find it tumbling down the hill before he reaches the top, and then having to roll it back up again—endlessly. Through myth we ask profoundly, does life have meaning? Do the gods hate us? Do they even care? Is life worth living?  As Chesterton comments in Everlasting Man, "In a word, mythology is a search; it is something that combines a recurrent desire with a recurrent doubt, mixing a most hungry sincerity in the idea of seeking for a place with a most dark and deep and mysterious levity about all the places found." Indeed, myth has concerned itself with the great and impenetrable questions of life, questions that every worldview must answer.

 

And yet of the parallels between myth and Christianity, the modern mind argues that Jesus is just one more attempt at explaining what we merely wish were true. And that is partially correct. There are elements in myth that we want to believe: Namely that the gods do reveal themselves to us, that heavenly mysteries can be known on some real level, that life is saturated with purpose and meaning. Indeed, such qualities reach the deepest thirsts and longings of mankind; they are things we want to be true. But Christianity would take this one step further. It would argue that these are actually the stories that we knew on some real level had to be true. In myth, mankind has revealed what is engraved deeply on our hearts.

 

You see, within the great myths life is lived under that which is beyond us. There is an understanding that there is something to which we must bow, that we are required to answer to someone. There is awareness that our stories are lived alongside and touched by stories of the transcendent, of the ultimate. And we were right. What man has somehow always known has in fact happened. Or as Lewis remarks, "Myth became Fact." For the Christian story is exactly that. God did show Himself.  He stepped through the unseen and came to dwell within the seen. The Eternal reached into time and touched real and datable history. In our creed it is stated that Jesus, "suffered under Pontius Pilate…" A reminder that what man has longed for most has really happened: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).

 

Lewis's words provide a fitting conclusion. "For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact, claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher" (God in the Dock [Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1970] 67). May the One who was, and is, and is to come be to you all things this day and always.

 

Copyright(c) 2003 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).

Reprinted with permission.

 

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