The Lightning Thief and Christianity

This book has been out for a while but is still relevant today. The series has gotten two movies, despite them not being loved by fans, and has been made into a Broadway musical. Now the author, Rick Riordan, has announced a plan is in the works to make the books a Tv series adaptation truer to the books than the movie. It is planned to air as an original series on Disney+ 1. It’s a book series beloved by many young readers and continues to have a large following. So, what are some reasons this first book, and the series it sparked, finds a home in hearts of readers? Also, how are some ways Christians can read this book with an open mind and not only enjoy the read, or the watch, when it’s a series, and have some valuable take-aways?

This book, along with the others in the series, follow Percy Jackson in a world where the Greek gods are real, along with the monsters and characters from Greek mythology, only they’ve adapted to Western culture. In The Lightning Thief, Percy discovers he is a half-blood, which means he is half-human, half-god. Not only that, he’s not the only one. He comes to Camp Half-blood, a safe-haven where teens like himself can escape the threat of monsters. Percy is not at camp long before being sent on a quest leading himself and a group of friends to the Underworld. They have a limited amount of time to retrieve and return Zeus’ signature weapon, in order to stop a civil war between the gods. A tall order for a twelve-year old and a couple of his friends.

The series, though secular, does focus on Biblical themes such as loyalty in friendship, courage and perseverance, the depravity of human nature, and having faith, just in the Greek gods not the one true God. However, the moments throughout the series where Percy takes a step of faith trusting in a flawed, human-like god, it has encouraged me as a reader, how I should be able to trust the perfect, omniscient and omnipotent God of the Bible so much more. The books present an entertaining twist on the pantheon of Greek gods(very enjoyable after reading the older Greek epics), but it presents them purely as fiction. The series obviously does not expect to convert the readers to believe these gods are real, anymore than other fantasy writers are trying to convince readers unicorns are real. Reading both the Greek epics and the Percy Jackson series have shown me how needed it is to have one God, who acts out of love, rather than multiple gods who would act from human-like desires as they do in these books.

In The Lightning Thief, there was a particular moment that rubbed me the wrong way as a Christian reader, but by the second time I had read it, I was able to see it as a good critique of the Western church and is a good reminder of a spiritual truth. When Percy and his friends reach the Underworld,(The book has a very different perspective on the afterlife, but like the gods, it’s all presented as fiction), they sneak past the gates, where individuals are separated based on choices made in their lives. The characters spot one person on their way in, who looks oddly familiar. Percy recognizes the man as a well-known televangelist in this scene:

“I did remember now. We’d seen him on TV a couple of times at the Yancy Academy dorm. He was this annoying televangelist from Upstate New York who’d raised millions of dollars for orphanages and then got caught spending the money on stuff for his mansion, like gold-plated toilet seats, and an indoor putt-putt golf course. He’d died in a police chase when his ‘Lamborghini for the Lord’ went off a cliff.”2

The main characters see this man being led away by some ghouls, and Percy’s friend, Grover, predicts the televangelist will be taken to the worst of the three options in the Underworld for punishment. By the second time I read this scene, there was a Bible passage it brought to mind. In Matthew 7, during his sermon on the Mount, Jesus had this to say about certain people reaching eternity:

Matthew 7:21-23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

So, both the passage in The Lightning Thief, and Jesus’ words here, are a reminder to us to firstly, beware of false teachers, but also that the Christian life is more than just calling Jesus “Lord”, and not living like it. No Christian will come to eternity and find anything other than what we are told in the Bible. The idea of that happening, like it does in this one scene, is, again, completely fictional. What is not fictional, is that some people who profess Christ, but do not have a real relationship with him, will not enter eternity the way they had imagined. The humor in this passage aside, it requires Christian readers to do some good critical thinking. Thinking that should help us to examine our own hearts, and remind us that Christianity is about knowing God more and trusting him, not our works. Also, to help us remember to beware of false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, who have their own desires set above thriving for God’s glory.

1- Shuler, S. (2020, November). “‘Percy Jackson’ Disney+ Series Update”. The Disinsider.
2- Riordan, R. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Puffin, 2013.

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