Viking Travel Journal––Day 4

Norwegian Glaciers

We opted to take a seven hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen, Norway because it was a “must do” and the scenery was supposed to be “breathtaking.”

It was neither.

It wasn’t bad; it just didn’t live up to the hype.

The best scenery is captured in the pic here of the glaciers.

The Wife summed it up best (as she normally does): “It just looks like East Tennessee.” And she should know.

But that was okay because today was a day to read about Olaf Tryggvason (Cir. 960–1,000 A.D.) the man who brought Christianity to Norway.

Olaf’s story is a remarkable for a couple of reasons. First, he spent much of his boyhood as a slave. He was born into royalty, but through some political changes in Norway ended up being separated from his mother and sold into slavery. I was immediately reminded of John Knox and St. Patrick, whom we studied on last years’ GSB tour.

Knox spent his time as a slave in a French Galley after being captured at St. Andrews before returning to fulfill his destiny as the greater Scottish reformer. Patrick was kidnapped by Irish slave traders from his parents in England while still a youth and was enslaved in Ireland where he had an encounter with God, escaped to return to England, and then voluntarily returned to Ireland to evangelize the nation.

What is it about slavery that God in His sovereignty allowed these future world changers to be subjected to it before they could fulfill their destiny? Maybe it was a way of losing their lives before they could truly find them in Him.

Also, remarkable about Olaf is how he became a Christian. He was in England raiding and looting and doing what Vikings do when he came across a Christian prophet who prophesied Olaf would became king of Norway but that first he would be wounded and taken away but after seven days would recover and lead men to become Christians. Sure enough Olaf was wounded, lay six days at deaths door and on the seventh day recovered. When he returned to the prophet, he repented and became a Christian.

Olaf then returned to Norway intent on Christianizing the country. With regard to the allegations Olaf evangelized at the threat of a sword, this is likely true in certain instances. Context matters though. Olaf, like Charlemagne, was a warrior. It was how he was trained and lived for most of his life. While becoming a Christian changed his views on war and raiding, he was still in process. Also, the Viking paganism was not a harmless mythology; Viking pagans practiced human sacrifice. Perhaps Olaf knew that merely outlawing such practices was not enough, that if the people didn’t adopt Christianity in place of their paganism they would quickly return to it and its barbarous practices.

After Olaf was made king in Norway he sent priests and missionaries to the Orkney Islands, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. He changed the law throughout Norway, establishing a Christian Sabbath, and a law that children be taught the Ten Commandments. He encouraged men who had given up warfare and vikingry to occupy themselves in industry and useful arts, and he borrowed many laws from King Alfred, the first Christian king of England.

And for historians who are enthralled by misguided romantic ideas about Norse paganism, I would simply ask: Which is worse, that a Christian culture of peace and love be forced on some people or that they continue in  raiding, looting, and sacrificing humans for religious purposes?

Until tomorrow. GS

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