In one scene of Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus is told about the existence of alluring inhabitants of a craggy island known as Sirens that sing a song that is so beautiful that no man can resist it. Once a man has heard this song, he cannot help put relent to the temptation and will pilot his ship into certain shipwreck in order to reach them. Rather than steer his ship far away from the island of the sirens, he orders his men to plug their ears with beeswax, tie him to the mast of the ship, and come within sight of the shore so that he can hear the Siren’s song, but be prevented from attempting to reach them. Despite the fact that the shore of the island is littered with heaps of the “dead men’s bones lying all around, the flesh still rotting off them,” he begs his men to untie him once he hears the song. Instead, they tie him tighter and steer the ship away from the island and back on course for Ithaca and back to his wife, Penelope.
Homer was a pagan Greek who did not have the benefit of the counsel of God’s word or the restraint of the Holy Spirit, but in writing this scene he recognized something profound in the character of men. Despite the knowledge of assured destruction, Odysseus risked his life, the life of his men, and the happiness of his home to experience just a taste of the allure of the Siren’s song. It is far too frequent that believers have full knowledge of the risks, but still chose to venture far too close to temptation in order to experience the thrill of the forbidden. How many believers justify to themselves their pornography consumption by convincing themselves that they are actually not cheating on their spouses? How many husbands allow themselves to get too close to their female coworkers? How many wives secretly chat online with former boyfriends? All of them are pulling too close to the land of the sirens and trusting their own provisions of restraint to keep them from crossing a line of their own making while ignoring the Bible’s admonition to flee from temptation, immorality, and idolatry. (Proverbs 5:8, 1 Cor. 10:14).
When we look at this pagan story, every reader can surely see a bit of himself. In fact, this is reason that I have selected the non-traditional artistic interpretation of the story that accompanies this article. The image above is from African-American artist Romare Bearden’s Black Odyssey series in which he interprets the story of Odysseus from the perspective of an African American. Despite the fact that Homer was a Greek pagan, the story and the warning are so universal, that an artist thousands of years and miles removed can interpret the story of his own family and experience through its lens. All of us are too quick to risk everything for momentary pleasure. Certainly, Odysseus’s encounter with the sirens has a sexual overtone, but there are myriad temptations that will pull us off course and cause us to risk everything for just a momentary thrill. For believers, if we remain focused on pleasing God rather than getting just close enough to the sirens without actually giving in to sin, we will never worry about coming too close to the craggy rocks. Christianity is not about pushing the envelope, testing the limits, and walking up to the edge sin. It is about pleasing the God who we serve and living in a way that honors Him and reflects His nature and His glory.