Here’s an interesting snippet from Peter Enns’s forthcoming commentary on Ecclesiastes:
One of my favorite authors is Stephen Lawhead. His novels largely center on medieval themes with a tactful Christian undercurrent. Lawhead weaves together religious and secular themes in a way that forces one to look at the Christian faith outside of familiar language and trappings.
His novel Byzantium is set in medieval Ireland and recounts the journeys of a young scribe, Aidan, living in an Irish monastery. He is chosen by the order to accompany some monks to Byzantium to present a gift to the Emperor. The journey turns out to more than he bargained for. Along the way he is captured and enslaved by Vikings, and his trek to Byzantium takes a long and distant detour.
What makes the Christian god different, Gunnar [the now-converted Viking] explains to Aiden, is that he came to live among the fisherfolk and was hung up on a tree to die. “And I remember thinking,” says Gunnar, “this Hanging God is unlike any of the others; this god suffers, too, just like his people….Does Odin do this for those who worship him? Does Thor suffer with us?”
Gunnar, as an outsider, zeroes in on something distinctive about the Gospel: the Christian God is a “Hanging God,” who does not observe suffering from a distance but takes part in it. A suffering God is a disorienting thought, if we let it sink in for a moment. It is also logically inexplicable. If true, however, it is, as Gunnar concluded, “good news.” In our darkest moments, we are not alone.
If I’m not mistaken, Odin did “hang on a tree”—albeit to gain personal wisdom or enlightenment.