Making a god mortal: Hercules and Jesus

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The potion to turn Hercules mortal. Image Credit: Hercules (Disney)

Hercules is an excellent Disney movie for those who have never seen it. You should watch it with your children, too, or nieces/nephews and grandchildren. It’s an excellent look at bravery and courage and what defines greatness.

But bravery, courage, and greatness within Hercules have a specific context: that is, it surrounds Hercules, the main character of the movie. Hercules is a god in heaven with his mother and father, who are god (Zeus) and goddess (Hera). Well, he is kidnapped out of his crib one night and taken to earth, where Hades (an evil god) plots to make him human. The purpose of removing Hercules’s divinity is to kill him because, if he fights against Hades, Hades won’t be able to take over the world.

So early on in the movie, Hades asks Panic and Pain, his two minions, “How do you kill a god?” Pain responds, “You can’t? They’re immortal?” To which Hades says, “Exactly.” Hades goes on to say that the first thing you have to do to kill a god is “make him mortal,” at which point he flashes the pink potion in the above photo. Hercules has to drink all the liquid to become fully mortal, every last drop — but he doesn’t. He doesn’t get the last drop, and so, retains his divinity (godhood) and godlike strength even though he’s mostly mortal.

In this post, I think that the movie Hercules and the idea of making a god mortal is an idea worth considering. What does it mean when someone suggests the idea that a god/goddess can become “mortal”? And what does it mean if a god is known for being made mortal by a potion? How is this considered in the larger discussion of gods in general? Is this god more credible than Jesus?

Making a god mortal: is it possible?

Can anyone make a god mortal? Well, the idea of “god” in general is a powerful entity above all others. Even a lowercase “god” is still considered to be above humanity. Since god is deemed “other” from humanity, the idea then, that a god can be made mortal is ludicrous. It suggests that the god isn’t as powerful as he or she (goddess) is painted to be. If a god can be made mortal by a potion such as the one in Hercules, then he isn’t really powerful or even above humanity. In fact, such a “god,” if he or she is conceivable, is nothing more than a human being hailed as a god. And, to be sure, there’s a major difference between an actual god and someone “hailed” as a god that is merely human.

A god, then, cannot be made human. A god must choose to become human. Since a “god” has power that others do not have, he or she cannot be forced to become something they don’t want to become. So Hercules proposes the idea that the god in the story can become human against his will. In effect, this makes the idea of god absurd. For, if a god is forced against his will, this means that circumstances affect him. A true “god” with power wouldn’t be affected by circumstances, but would rather affect them. When a god is painted as though he is victim to changing circumstances, the circumstances in question are greater than him. If he’s no more powerful than humans, then he isn’t a god but merely a mortal man.

And this is what Hercules says about the notion of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Disney has done its research on the legend surrounding Hercules, and the portrayal in the movie is as accurate as it gets. But the idea that anyone would think this is true of a god at all is absurd; for, how can a god be a god if he cannot determine circumstances but is himself determined by them? Humans only hope and wish for the power to change their circumstances. The great “god” Hercules is an unfortunate victim who can’t do anything about his being made mortal. How is he worthy of any more respect, loyalty, and worship than the greatest human being?

Is Hercules on par with Jesus?

Making a god mortal isn’t exactly a sensical proposition because it’s impossible. It assumes that a god, possessing divinity, can lose his or her divinity and become completely mortal. Divinity is not something you can lose, any more than you can lose your humanity. Your nature is not something that can change, and the same can be said for divinity or godhood. A true god cannot just drop his divinity and lose all his god powers. It’s just not possible.

But this is even more so with Jesus, considered to be the Son of God, God Himself. Atheists tend to find the Greek and Roman mythologies more believable or credible than the Bible itself. They believe Jesus to be a forgery, someone made up by fictional writers. But if you look at the story of Hercules, he appears to be nothing short of fictional. And, to be honest, he is far more fictional and unrealistic than Jesus.

Heavenly kidnapping and the unsuspecting gods

First, Hercules is kidnapped out of his crib in Heaven. This isn’t possible. If a god is powerful above anyone else, then two minions couldn’t escape into Heaven and take him out of his crib. It just isn’t possible. And “gods” would be omniscient and know what would happen in advance so that the deed itself wouldn’t stand a chance of happening. If Hercules were god, and his parents were true gods, Pain and Panic would never have gotten into Heaven and stolen Hercules before the “gods” knew what they were up to. The storyline makes these “gods” lacking in knowledge, which belittles them below Jesus, who foreknew of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion from the very beginning of His earthly life.

The potion that’s “greater than the gods”

The next issue with the idea of Hercules as god is the potion. If there’s a potion that can turn a god into a mortal, that potion is more god than the gods that claim to be above it. Think about it: the same potion that turns Hercules into a mortal could also turn Zeus and Hera into mortals. In other words, the potion’s very existence proves unsafe for all gods and goddesses, no matter how old or young. And any god threatened with the loss of divinity isn’t a god.

What we read in Scripture about Jesus is that He was divine from before time began, from eternity past, and that His divinity (Godhood) remains eternal. He will always and forever “be God.” There is no threat to His divinity that could eliminate His Godhood. And, unlike Hercules, the cup Jesus drank was not the cup of mortality, but rather, the cup of death on the cross at Calvary. Jesus didn’t drink the cup against His will; He voluntarily offered up His life for humanity. And He took on flesh and came down to earth voluntarily; He wasn’t kidnapped from His crib and forced to come regardless.

As Jesus says of Him giving His life, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18).

Raised not knowing his parents: Hercules

Hercules, once kidnapped by Hades’ Pain and Panic, is brought to earth and grows up with earthly parents. He doesn’t know who his real parents are, though, but he knows he has a chain around his neck with a medal that says “Hercules.” So he sets off on an adventure to discover the nature of his real parents. Turns out he comes from gods, but he didn’t know it.

This storyline doesn’t fit Jesus at all. Sure, Jesus was raised by Joseph, an earthly father, instead of His father, God the Father, but Mary is His real mother. She gave birth to Him. Unlike Hercules who’s brought to earth and “drinks” his way to mortality, Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary and is both human and divine. But Jesus grows up aware of who His real parents are. Though Joseph helps Mary raise Him, Jesus knows that His true Father is in Heaven. Even at age 12, when Joseph and Mary, traveling for days having lost Jesus, discover that He’s in the temple, Jesus responds with the question, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) Even at 12 years old, He knew who His true Father was. Jesus didn’t have to discover His parents; He knew them from the very beginning.

It’s hard to see Hercules as a god of any sort when he doesn’t know his parents. Aren’t gods supposed to have omniscience and know their parents?

Human women: Hercules’ “Achilles Heel”

In the movie Hercules, Hades tells this Meg (short for Megan) woman that Hercules has a weakness. She taunts Hades and says that Hercules doesn’t have any weaknesses. “I think he does, Meg. I think he does,” Hades replies. The weakness just so happens to be Meg, representative of attractive women everywhere.

The idea that a god has a weakness for attractive mortal women also suggests that he’s not a true god. Why would a god have a weakness for mortal women when he’s self-sufficient? A self-sufficient god doesn’t need anyone or anything. He doesn’t create out of need, but out of want. He doesn’t have a weakness but rather, shows love. Love is not weakness, by the way, but Hercules reveals his weakness when he tells Meg that “when I’m with you, I don’t feel so alone.” Alone? Gods do not feel alone. They can’t feel alone because there’s nothing lacking in them. God Himself doesn’t ever get alone. He didn’t create man because He was lonely but because He simply wanted to. “He does whatever He pleases,” we’re told. It pleased God to create; He didn’t do it out of need, as though mankind is greater than He is. If mankind were greater, he would’ve created God — not the other way around!

When we look at Jesus, we don’t see someone who had to fall in love with a human woman. But this idea from Hercules (that “gods” need the love of mortal women) is the idea behind the false claim that Jesus had a romantic relationship with Mary Magdalene, one of His female followers. One secular scholar has said that it would’ve been odd for Jesus to have lived a monastic existence without marriage, but look at His followers. With the exception of Peter, Jesus’ right-hand man, the other disciples were single and didn’t marry (as far as we know). Simon Peter is the only one that we read about that had a mother-in-law (Luke 4:38). The Apostles Paul and Timothy are two others that didn’t have a wife, either. Paul says that he and others have a right to “lead about a wife” (1 Corinthians 9:5), but that indicates that, though he wasn’t married, he could choose to. So in that regard, it didn’t seem odd for Jesus to not have a wife and to be single.

The idea that Hercules needs Meg, a woman, in his life, shows that, whatever Hercules is, he isn’t a god but, at most, an angel (if not downright angelic). Angels, however, are not deity.

Hercules stays on earth, forgets his ultimate mission

The Disney movie paints Hercules as being “from above,” but after rescuing Meg from death by giving himself in her place, he tells Zeus and Hera that he prefers to stay on earth because “I finally know where I belong.” Belong? Doesn’t that seem an odd word to say for a god who came from Heaven? How does he know he belongs on earth? He didn’t come from earth, so why stay instead of resuming life in Heaven with his parents?

It seems as though in the end, Hercules forgets his divine mission altogether. He doesn’t want to be god; he just wants to be human, on earth with the woman he loves, leaving his true parents in Heaven to themselves.

Jesus, as God, doesn’t forget His mission. He takes on human flesh and comes to earth to die for the sins of humanity. After His mission, He returns to Heaven. Many places in Scripture, Jesus says that He is “from above” and that Heaven is His home (John 8:23, for example). And after endowing the disciples with Holy Spirit power, He ascends back to His Father in Heaven above (Acts 1:9-11).

Seems to me that a god/God wouldn’t forget his mission. Hercules forgets his, but Jesus does not. I’m more inclined to believe a God who doesn’t need humanity and who doesn’t want to remain on earth after the mission is incomplete — as though earth is better than Heaven.

Credible: Hercules or Jesus?

The Disney movie Hercules is great for children and adults alike. Most will watch the movie and enjoy it simply for what it is. I did that the first dozen times I watched it. But at some point, I began to consider the ideas in the movie. If, as some would like us to believe, these Greek and Roman mythological gods are “more god” than Jesus, why is it that they sound more human than Jesus and sound far more like me than they do God?

That’s what prompted this post in my head several months ago. I wanted to write a post that would get some considering the idea of a God. That is, if a God is out there, if the real God exists, would He be similar to these mythological gods? After looking at Hercules, the answer is no.

I don’t find Hercules credible as deity. He’s too lost, doesn’t know his parents, gets kidnapped as a baby (with his parents unaware and unable to help). Then, he grows up and doesn’t know anything about them, has to discover who they are, and then ends up having to fight against Hades who made him human in the first place. Hades doesn’t win in the end, but Hades’ ability to make Hercules human eliminates the idea that Hercules is a god. And in the end, Hercules’ desire to give up his powers for one day out of love for freeing the woman he affectionately loves is problematic. Jesus didn’t give up His life because He had romantic affection for humanity. He gave His life for us because He wanted to restore us back to God the Father. God the Father loved a humanity that, in many ways to this day, still doesn’t love Him back. A perfect love is given voluntarily with no expectation in return. Let’s be honest: Hercules wouldn’t have given his life for Meg and gone back to Heaven with his parents. He had an expectation of requited love. That’s not true love, it’s not unconditional love in any respect.

When you look at just how human Hercules is, you realize that it’s a good movie but it doesn’t engage the idea of what a true god is really like. And Hercules isn’t one worthy of worship because he’s so much like us that, in the end, he isn’t a god at all. Perhaps he’s seen as someone “god-like” because he sacrifices himself for love, because he shows the strength of his heart and not the strength of his arm (physical might). But in the end, being godlike isn’t the same as being God.

Hercules may be godlike (perhaps angelic, even), but he’s no match for Jesus. Jesus is God, capital G. And in the end, I find it far more credible that Jesus had a human mother who conceived Him than that Hercules, a god, was stolen out of his crib in Heaven by minions of Hades, who weren’t even immortal themselves. The story of Hercules may not convince atheists that there is a God whose story is credible, but Jesus’ story still stands as the most reasonable and credible.

There’s still no story like His, nor God like Him.