At least the ancients longed for the highest truth and beauty.

Ancient mythology possessed much that was beautiful. It was an illusion, but it prepared many people for that beauty which is no illusion. One great authority on classical literature, a man converted in midlife, Gerhard Nebel (1903–74), put it thus: “The encounter in Christ that was granted me in these years made it necessary for me to rethink … the myth and the beautiful from the perspective of the crucified and risen Lord” (from the Foreword, Das Ereiginis de Schönen, 1953). Nebel states repeatedly and in many ways that the concepts of beauty and strength, truth and virtue, that he found in the myths, did not and could not bring even true satisfaction (not to speak of salvation), but that they did create an empty stage, brushing aside the trivial concerns of banal daily living, and creating an expectancy that only the gospel could fill.

Nebel was also convinced that the ancient myths cannot be revived. Their beauty, even with its flaws, is lost as a real force in human lives (although we can still admire it at a distance, like statues in a museum of ancient art). The gospel is real, and proved far too strong for the gods and heroes of mythology. We can no longer believe in them, nor should we—even though we may learn something from them. But when the gospel is lost, when the true truth, real virtue, and absolute beauty that the gospel represents are forgotten and banished from our “post-Christian culture,” then we are worse off than ancient man with his imperfect but beautiful mythology.

To borrow Nebel’s imagery, we no longer have an empty stage, from which great tragic drama has swept false hopes, leaving us ready to hear the true hope of the gospel, but we ...

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