I smile as I carefully close the plastic-wrapped cardboard cover of the final book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I feel content and a little sad in that special way that is reserved for books and the completion of adventures that they open up for me. Percy’s adventures are certainly enough fun to charm any reader, and my long-standing fascination with Classical mythology and epic poetry kept me hooked as well. You see, Percy learns that Mount Olympus and all it’s trappings still exist, now in America (the current seat of Western Civilization), and that he is a son of Poseidon. Percy’s adventures take him all around the U.S., where he encounters the important places from Greek myth overlapped with modern America. The entrance to the Underworld, for example, is in L.A., Medusa’s palace is a statuary in New York State, Olympus itself is on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building. I admire the way that Riordan blended to ancient and the new as I study the cover art of this last book, observing the artist’s representation.
In the beginning, I didn’t know what to expect from these books, though. I read skeptically, waiting to catch the author (Rick Riordan) in the act of misrepresenting religion or God in the Greek gods he wrote. I didn’t detect anything that did, however. That’s not really what the books are about.
But I did find some things that resonated with my life of faith. For example, in a conversation that Percy has with Hermes, whose son Luke (a demigod) is emotionally self-destructing and trying to take the whole world with him, Hermes regrets that he cannot interfere with Luke’s choices and tells Percy not to give up on Luke. After I read that scene, I wondered if God sometimes feels grieved by our choices, watching the wrecks we can make out of our lives, willing us not to count each other out. It wasn’t the first time I had wondered that, but the scene brought the question fresh to my mind, reinvented the image of a father awaiting the return of his prodigal child.
At other times, I felt that I could sympathize with Percy and the other half bloods, who rarely (some of them never) hear from or see their immortal parent. Even Percy’s special circumstances and obvious need for guidance don’t afford him much more than cryptic advice and cursory glances. As Percy tries to work out his feelings about the silence of the gods, I found myself identifying with him. I don’t mean to compare God to the gods here or even to question Him, so don’t misunderstand me, but how often have any of us prayed, pleaded with God and felt only silence and the empty space of the room around us? How many believers have had to learn to trust God in spite of (seemingly) unanswered prayers, or felt led to a decision or action with no promises or explanations? Most of us, I think. Maybe all of us at one time or another.
But overall, these books are not really a story about faith. And a good thing, too, because if you know anything about the Greek gods, you know that they are not particularly savory characters. I don’t want God represented by them.
But, as I thought about the gods, reading to see if they represent God, a funny thing happened. I found myself dwelling on the nature of my God in comparison with the Olympians. The Olympians are petty little gods who bear no resemblance to my BIG GOD. They are basically just fallible, arrogant humans who have god powers and create problems for themselves because they just can’t seem to keep it in their togas around mortals of the opposite sex. And they are willing to sacrifice anyone to keep themselves comfortably on their thrones. Some of Riodan’s gods are more likable and less terrible than all that, but not much and not many.
It’s quite the opposite with the real God, isn’t it? Perhaps Paul says it best when he describes Christ,
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! (Philippians 2: 6-8)
As I dwelt on the characteristics of God, I felt myself moving toward a deeper worship than I have had in a long time. I felt blessed to be serving such a great and wonderful God who calls me His own and loves me dearly. My heart has been drawn toward God Almighty by a group of morally-questionable gods formed by a children’s author’s imagination. And I know that even this was crafted by God’s hand, and wonder that He can take a story that’s not really about Him and use it to get my attention. He shows up in the strangest places sometimes, when I’m least expecting Him. I smile to myself as I stack this last volume with it’s fellows and hum a few lines from a song I loved to sing as a child:
My God is so BIG! so strong and so mighty. There’s nothing my God cannot do! The mountains are His, the valleys are His, the trees are His handiwork too!
Apparently, stories about demigods and Greek mythology are His too.