Confessions of a Viking

Here’s a post from our favorite Scandinavian seafarer, Julian Brooks. It took me a long […]

Mockingbird / 2.17.16

Here’s a post from our favorite Scandinavian seafarer, Julian Brooks.

cg520d2bfa2499cIt took me a long time to give it a shot, but a few months ago my wife and I finally started watching Vikings on the History Channel. I remember seeing the preview for it a few years back and hearing Awolnation’s song “Sail” for the first time. That alone should have sold me (after all, the song itself gets me so hyped it makes me want to punch through a wall), but being that it was on the History channel I didn’t think it would be able to keep my interest. Fast forward three years and we are hooked. So much so, we caught up on three seasons in one month. That’s right, binging is what we do.

The show is brutal, so if you don’t have a stomach for Old-Testament-level violence and unnecessary deaths, I would recommend something else. In the likely event you were sleeping during history class, the Vikings were pretty bad people. Legend has it that the show’s main character, Ragnar Lothbrok, a man of Nordic folklore, was a descendant of the Old Norse god Odin (yes, that means he and Thor are half-brothers). Ragnar is one of the greatest bad guys you’ll find yourself rooting for on television. Warning: husbands, don’t be surprised if your wife starts calling you Ragnar.

On Ragnar’s first raid, he stumbles upon a monastery in Lindesfarne, which is an island off the northeast coast of England. The Vikings are perplexed with what they have found. A town full of nothing but men living in utter poverty. An island with no women and no gold…did Ragnar lead his men into Viking Hell?

Nevertheless, as Vikings do, they slaughter everyone without batting an eye and take the holy relics for plunder. Watching this, I thought, “Yeah, I can see why God flooded the earth.” This is human history since the fall–killing, coveting, and more killing. Other dramas have vividly portrayed the ruthlessness of humanity, but something about this scene made it clear just how much humanity deserves the judgement of God.


This is true of course if you believe what God’s law really says about us. Most of us have never had the opportunity to set sail and plunder other countries. But according to Jesus’ own words we have all committed adultery and murdered our neighbor, in thought, if not in word and deed. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but that is truly how a Holy God sees us. When the mirror of the Law is placed before us, we see that we are all bloodthirsty idolaters, doing everything for our own advantage and promotion.

Some may object and say that is how God sees the world, not the believer who has repented and put their faith in God. I wouldn’t disagree entirely, but that interpretation is leaving out the persisting reality of sin in our daily lives. As Luther pointed out, Christians are both completely forgiven and yet sinful at the same time–in his terms, ‘simul iustus et peccator.’ (Or ‘the simul’ for short.)

Not only do we as believers continue to sin, but Luther’s point is proven by the fact that we dress up our sin as something righteous!

The Vikings, through three seasons, continue to plague Christianized Europe, and in their first raid, Ragnar takes one of the monks, Athelstan, as a slave. The show’s writers bring out Athelstan’s inner turmoil while he lives as a Christian slave amongst, perhaps, some of the most ruthless and paganized people of the known world. Eventually, Athelstan begins to doubt his faith and joins the Vikings in their pagan practices and traditions. Some of which include human sacrifices. Within a few years Athelstan even joins his fellow Vikings in raids–slaying his own countrymen with the sword.

What got me really thinking of ‘the simul’ was when Athelstan was re-captured by the Christians. In order to atone for his betrayal and renunciation of his former Christian faith, the head priest decides that Athelstan must be crucified to appease God. The irony here is how disgusted the Christians were with the Vikings’ practice of human sacrifice, yet they do the exact same thing. It’s a classic example of how we dress up our sin as something good and even make it look like an offering to God.


I get it…we aren’t thinking about sacrificing anyone today. But can we honestly say even now as believers that we have never had a lustful thought? Or how about thinking ill of another person? That alone makes us all adulterous murderers according to Christ’s own words. And not only are we guilty of these things, but don’t we also dress up our sin as if it’s actually for God? For example, when we justify gossip in the name of helping others know what to pray for. I see this in myself all the time. Just the other day I found out someone was gossiping about me. So I did what any good Christian does: I talked with my wife about how bad this person was. It wasn’t until mid-sentence that it hit me: “You’re doing the exact same thing you are complaining about.” Thankfully God shut my mouth; unfortunately that’s not always the case.

But still, we think, “At least I’m not a Viking for crying out loud! I’m a believer. I don’t murder people or steal from them. Instead I just talk about people behind their backs.” Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Sometimes I don’t even like my friends. On one hand, I can see these things and repent of them before God, while at the same time I am still very much a concoction of contradictions. Maybe we aren’t so different from the Vikings after all!

The good news of the Gospel, and what Luther wonderfully brings out with his teaching of ‘the simul’ is that I’m free to be exposed in all of this. I don’t have to wait until I stop being a self-centered narcissistic psychopath to serve my neighbor. Because that will only truly end when this flesh gets put in a grave and raised on the last day. For now I can be honest about who I am in and of myself while at the same time rejoicing that, even in all this, there is no condemnation for those in Christ.

At our worst, we are all Vikings, sacrificing others to appease our false gods and secure favor. And at best we are simply Vikings dressed up like Christians, sacrificing pagans to satisfy our bloodlust. In Christ, however, we are those whom God has sacrificed his only Son to save and clothe with His perfect righteousness. The truth of ‘the simul’ means that I can no longer be delusional about what I am in and of myself, a sinner. But at the same time I can never be disqualified from serving my neighbor, because who I am before God is loved, and who I am before my neighbor is a mask that God wears to meet their daily needs. With that, cue music, wait for it and…SAIL!