Deep in the heart of every man, woman, and child lies a desire to be epic. Think of the works of literature that have endured for centuries: Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Paradise Lost, and countless others. There is something enduring and relatable about epic literature.
Consider more modern literature series: Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent. How about some of the most popular movies? Star Wars trilogies, and as many of the superhero genre as you can imagine.
This one-page definition published by Carson-Newman University is a helpful start to define what an epic is. We’ll take just three of their qualifications (noting that epics are, in the strictest sense, poetry, which doesn’t apply to any of the modern works I’ve listed).
- “It is a long narrative about a serious or worthy subject.”
- “The narrative focused on the exploits of a hero… who represents the cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group.”
- “The hero’s success or failure will determine the fate of that people or nation.”
What do these modern epics generally have in common?
- An honest, objective, and absolute understanding of evil.
- A main character whose seemingly good ideology is tainted by a fatal flaw which is ultimately overcome in his/her battle against evil.
- A main character who represents the masses, typically common people who are ruled or oppressed by a dictator or oligarchy.
- A war against evil which unites the people.
- Death as a major theme.
Why do epics endure and capture our attentions so much? I’d like to submit an answer, comprised of my own description of a modern epic:
- We long for a “serious or worthy” cause for which to live.
- We long for evil to be called “evil,” a weightier label than morally bad or wrong.
- We long for justice.
- We want evil to be defeated, once and for all.
- We want to be unified with others under a sense of purpose, such as the defeat of evil.
- We want our deaths to matter for something.
Epics aren’t just literature — in a sense, they help us understand who we really are. Somehow we innately know that we’re built for bigger and better things, or at least we hope for bigger and better things. We search for that in careers, adventures, ideological stances, moral uprightness, and so many more unfulfilling outlets.
The truth is that we will search until we realize that we aren’t the protagonist in the epic novel of our lives. Jesus is. Only Jesus calls evil what it really is without indicting Himself. Only Jesus metes justice. Only Jesus defeats evil by His death. Only Jesus truly unites. Jesus’ fatal flaw wasn’t His — it was ours. He took the punishment we deserved for our sins by His death because of His compassion for us and glory for Himself.
And yet, He wasn’t an action hero. He didn’t single-handedly beat up the dictatorial powers with His bare hands. He didn’t get a girl to fall for Him with His feats of strength or courage. By our measures, we might consider Him a boring epic hero. This Jesus who freed captives, healed the blind, sick, and lame, and restored life, could He possibly be boring? We who have tasted His freedom, healing, and restoration can’t possibly think so. Together, the Church is fighting evil with Him, on His mission to bring light to dark places, to unite a people. Is it your mission, too?