Vinland Saga takes place during a fascinating time in history. Part of the historical context for the anime is that it was during these years when the Vikings rapidly converted to Christianity. They came into contact with the religion through raids into the British Isles, and it was then that many converted to the faith, while at home, the religion had also taken hold. This movement of religion is represented in episode 11 of Vinland Saga, where Thorkell and his men, still mostly pagan, laugh at Christianity, represented by their hostage, the Prince Canute.
The initial conversation is sparked by talk of Christian (English) women. But the meaningless talks turns more significant as one soldier explains an obstacle to conversion:
“I don’t want to convert. If you’re Christian, they’re always telling you not to do this or that.”
The “rules” he refers to are still an obstacle to many, who see Christianity as too restrictive. We as Christians speak of freedom from sin, but those around us, just as Thorkell’s men do, want a freedom to sin. That would certainly be descriptive of me before coming to Christ (and too often even now, if I’m being honest). But really, the difficulty here is the same as it is with most—getting individuals to understand the depths of their sin and how wretched sin is. Without realizing that, there’s no desire for rescue, no need for grace, and no love for Christ. And so, without having affection for the Savior born out thankfulness, and indulging in a warrior lifestyle as part of a raiding party, the same soldier continues with the same irreverent tone:
“I saw a statue of the guy they worship in London. He looked so weak.”
The physically weak Christ, the suffering Jesus on the cross, the image of a “defeated” king, would of course be poorly received by a warrior people. That idea has always been difficult to accept for new learners of the faith, even for the first century Jews who assumed the Christ would be a conquering warrior, not a normal-looking man who would be executed by the Romans. But again, an understanding of grace becomes not only a comprehension of that “weakness,” but an admiration for it, a tearful desire to thank Jesus for his humility, and a motivation to be just the same.
Unfortunately, in practice, Christendom struggles with that last point. Pride is a terrible disease, and it leads us to choose our own paths rather than Christ’s. Even more appalling, pride has fueled us in creating a syncretic sort of faith in which we believe our actions are approved by Christ (rather than following him first and letting the actions flow from that belief), with many (people and institutions) believing that he’s speaking us to do this or that when it may run contrary to the Sermon on the Mount. It’s with this selfish pride that we approach relationships, politics, and life in general. Evangelicals have a bad name in America because so many follow their own paths and drag Christ along, rather than following wherever he leads. This approach demonstrates a lack of faith and the height of stupidity; We would rather lean on our weak frame rather than on the strong shoulders of Christ.
The soldier in Vinland Saga goes on to say that Thor would “knock [Jesus] out with his hammer in an instant.” I can’t help but think that as we make “improvements” onto the gospel message, forgetting grace and mercy, that we’re in fact agreeing with this thousand-year-old pagan character’s assessment of the Savior.
Christ on the cross is apparently not strong enough. We, too, want a Thor to fight our battles, so we picket (or tweet), get into arguments about politics that don’t seem centered on Christ at all, and plunge into careers to make lots of money as if “Work hard, get an advanced degree, and make enough money to live a comfortable life (oh, and to give money to missions)” was an instruction he gave. We’re adding muscles to Christ’s frame, clothing him with Norse armor, and handing him Mjölnir to wield (he is worthy after all). There we go—just about perfect! Now he looks like the Christ we want.
It sounds silly, but it’s more than that. As we change who Christ is, as if he isn’t perfect already, we’re doing something terrible: We’re denying the power of Christ and of his wonderful grace. And while we don’t physically dress up an image of Jesus as Thor, doing it in our minds and by our actions is probably worse, as it reflects our heart condition and our relationship with him.
How vile. How distasteful. How unfortunate. And how very much the picture of the modern Christian.
Vinland Saga can be streamed on Amazon Prime.