Learning to Fail… from pagans

A while ago (probably before anyone was reading this) I posted a poem by C.S. Lewis called “Cliche Came Out of Its Cage.” The poem extols the virtues of paganism against the self righteous view of the church (apparently). I’ll just quote my favorite lines here.

Scarred with old wounds the one-eyed Odin, Tyr who has lost a hand,
Will limp to their stations for the Last defense. Make it your hope
To be counted worthy on that day to stand beside them;
For the end of man is to partake of their defeat and die
His second, final death in good company. The stupid, strong
Unteachable monsters are certain to be victorious at last,
And every man of decent blood is on the losing side.
Take as your model the tall women with yellow hair in plaits
Who walked back into burning houses to die with men,
Or him who as the death spear entered into his vitals
Made critical comments on its workmanship and aim.

Are these the Pagans you spoke of? Know your betters and crouch, dogs;

Knowing just a little about Norse myth, the end of it all is that after all the struggle the monsters win and the world ends. I’ve always hated stories and movies that end this way. I’m starting to realize that perhaps my distaste for such narratives is symptomatic of a crucial misunderstanding of God’s promises to us. Perhaps it is important that we learn to fail. The glory of the Norse myth, the glory of the story with the bad ending, is the always faithful character of the hero. My mind floods with the words of Hebrews 11:

…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised.

Why is it that my defining metaphor for worldly success always includes descriptors like victorious, note-worthy, and glorious? Why do I not instead think of courageous humiliation and pain? Ultimately, the hope I have that the Norse did not, is that I have a sovereign who rushes to breathe life to my failure to win the glorious victory. But let the glory be where it belongs and may I learn to fail with character.

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