The city I live in is built on a fault line. An earthquake could happen anytime, any day, with devastating consequences. To many people, this is an issue of geology – of science – but to me it is an issue of religion as well. As a follower of the Greek Gods, I see in every earthquake the hand of Poseidon, and as a mortal all I can do is trust that he will look kindly upon my city.
It’s easy to say that you should trust the Gods with everything. Make a few offerings, say a few prayers, and they should be pleased enough to keep you safe, right? But when you live on a fault line, the reality of their power becomes all the more terrifying – because the truth is that maybe, despite your prayers and offerings, they won’t keep you safe. In Homer’s Iliad, Achilles prayed for Patroclus’s return from the battlefield, but Zeus refused the request. I can pray for safety as much as I like. There is always a chance that the Gods won’t grant it.
We cannot know the Gods’ intentions. In my heart, I know that I should trust them, but when faced with their power, and the frailty of my life, is it not justified to fear them as well?
I am a mortal. I don’t have access to the same knowledge as the Immortals do, but I have chosen to believe that their intentions are good. By honouring the Gods and building kharis with them, I have a higher chance of them looking upon me favourably, and I trust that they do and will protect me. At the same time, I fear them, because I know that I am at their mercy. Kharis doesn’t guarantee safety; and if I offend Poseidon, or if Fate decrees that my time has come, I may very well die in an earthquake.
I don’t know the answer to whether I should trust or fear the Gods more. What I do know is that too little or too much of either is unhealthy. I need to be realistic, and keep my mortality in mind. But if I don’t trust the Gods as well, why pray to them and ask to be kept safe from earthquakes?
I live on a fault line. Poseidon could take my life at any time; still, I love him. I place myself in his hands, knowing he could crush me, hoping that he won’t, and I keep living my life as a servant of the Gods. When faced with such might, it’s really all I can do.