Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An "Ungodly" Match: The Marriage of Zeus & Hera

Scripture tells us that the pattern for all marriages is the covenantal union between Christ and the Church. In Ephesians 5, Paul grounds his exhortations to husbands and wives upon this covenantal union. The Christian approach to marriage is, therefore, theological in nature; it is based upon our understanding of Christ and His mercy toward His people.

Enter the gods of the Greeks as portrayed by Homer in The Iliad. Rarely respectable, often pitiable, the gods routinely offend us with their licentiousness, shock us with their callousness, disgust us with their fickleness, and sicken us with their childishness. And the more powerful the god, the more revolting the scene becomes. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “ungodly” marriage of Zeus and Hera, king and queen of the gods.

The marriage of Zeus and Hera is a case study of instability, unrighteousness, and adultery. It seems that, in Platonic irony, the marital problems among men are patterned after the “form” found in Zeus and Hera! After comparing their marriage to Paul’s admonitions to wives and husbands in Ephesians 5, it is evident that Zeus and Hera fail to measure up to the marital mandate given. They demonstrate in both their attitudes and behavior the paucity of their character and the repulsiveness of their hearts.

The headship of husbands is asserted and assumed in Paul’s admonitions. He recognizes that the husband is the head of the wife; hence, the husband is responsible for the wife. Scripture’s vision of this responsibility is driven by Jesus’ teaching on leadership. The true leader is the one who serves. Consequently, the husband is to give himself, in love, for the benefit of his wife. He is responsible to promote her growth in holiness; to nourish and cherish his wife as he does his own body. He is not to take advantage of his wife’s weakness, but is to respect this weakness and make allowance for it. Only in so doing will the marriage be blest.

In addition to being a servant, the husband is to manifest covenant loyalty. Just as Christ is faithful to his bride, the Church, so too Christian men are to be faithful to their wives. When a husband fails to keep covenant with his wife, he teaches that God is not a covenant keeping God, and this is blasphemy.

Zeus manifests none of these traits of a godly husband. First, Zeus never serves Hera. He lectures, he commands, he berates, he threatens; but never does he serve. Never does she receive a soft word from him; never does she receive from his hand acts of love and kindness. He treats her with contempt and her treatment of him is a fitting rejoinder to his pattern of leadership.

Second, Zeus takes advantage of Hera’s weaknesses, both emotionally and physically. Emotionally, Hera is understandably suspicious of Zeus and his dealings with other women, both of gods and men. Zeus recognizes this, but allows it only to embitter him the more firmly against her, rather than move him to repent and abandon his adulterous liaisons. In addition, Zeus takes advantage of his position to taunt Hera and goad her into some outburst. Physically, Zeus often threatens to beat Hera and thus drives her to “submission,” even boasting of the way in which he had cruelly tortured her on one occasion. Quite the loving husband!

Third, Zeus breaks covenant with his wife and even boasts of his immorality. When in the height of his lustful desire for his wife, Zeus proceeds to recount for us, and for her, numerous adulterous affairs he had engaged in. This must have warmed Hera’s heart! What we find is that Zeus’ marital infidelity manifests itself in his treatment of all relationships--he is not a covenant keeping god; he betrays those who most rely upon him. While himself the judge of deception, he openly deceives those who trust in him. Zeus’ failure to keep covenant with his wife is symptomatic of his treacherous character.

Zeus’ failure as a husband is well matched by Hera’s failure as a wife. Hera is anything but submissive and respectful. She is deeply suspicious of Zeus and questions him on his behavior. She finds it difficult to contain her anger and often answers back to Zeus. She uses her womanly charms to seduce and deceive Zeus, hardly the actions of a virtuous maid in whom the heart of her husband trusts. She despises Zeus, is frightened by him, and yet defies him in his weaker moments, rather than seeking to win his heart. Hera’s deviousness matches Zeus’ haughtiness; together they make a miserable couple.

Zeus and Hera epitomize a marriage gone bad. The seed of their hatred and contempt for one another having been sown, it produces destructive fruit in their relationship. Zeus’ infidelity breeds Hera’s suspiciousness which breeds Zeus’ bitterness which breeds Hera’s hatred, ad nauseum.

Thankfully, the pattern set before us in Scripture is much more beautiful, harmonious and alluring. It is one of joyful unity, complementary diversity, mutual serenity, unfathomable mystery. It is the relationship between Christ and the Church.