I’ve read very few folk tales or traditional stories for a while, but my understanding of that world and mentality is still pretty solid. When I read a fantasy that has fairy tale or mythic roots I can catch the multiple layers pretty effectively.
A year ago I started looking for good self-published books to read, and this was one of the first I bought. It was a cute take on the arraigned-marriage trope, with the (new to me) twist that the bride-to-be was willing to accept her “fate” and wasn’t a jerk to the guy and having to be won over.
What grabbed me wasn’t so much the story itself as the treatment/behavior of the fae, and the Faerie King in particular. The fae were portrayed in an utterly traditional way, with all their predictable selfishness and capricious unpredictability.
The ultimate story-climax-question became Will the Faerie King be just? Will he do what’s good for these good people, who’ve served him all their lives?
And because the faerie king has all the power to do anything with impunity, there’s a real sense of peril. There is the genuine question, since (as a Young Adult novel) this romance isn’t guaranteed the genre’s usual happy ending.
The heroine’s family of origin is blessedly intact and tight (unique and cheer-worthy in YA), but they’ve grown up working for the fae. They (the family) know the faerie folk’s power and inscrutableness, and as much as the humans hope for the good, I got the feeling their long experience also blunted their expectation, tempered their painful hope to the possibility that what they desired — the thing they knew would be right and decent and essential to happiness — might be denied.
And in real-life, sprawled out reading, I was hit with an almost physical ache. Because I recognized that holding-back.
It was painfully familiar. I’d instilled it in myself over years: through ways of praying, fed by fears that cultivated a drive to self-preservation. I’d scraped together a bark shield in an effort to blunt the pain of deep disappointment and loss.
I had done it all within context and language of religious community. I listened to the pedantic reminders that “God’s ways are higher than ours” (Is. 55:9), and “How inscrutable His ways” (Rom. 11:33).
Through distancing rationalization, I hid behind that flimsy shield in a dull attempt to save myself from further pain. If I didn’t expect too much – or if expected a lot, and was prepared to live without, “be it God’s will” – maybe I could avoid deep disappointment.
When I saw how this family’s response to petitioning the Faerie King paralleled my attitude in asking God for Deep Important Things, my eyes were opened to the sickness of it all.
I feared (not too-strong a word) a god I saw as capricious, and once I realized I was afraid, it disgusted me. Because the God I worshiped did not ask (or inspire) me to fear him in that way. It was a muddled attempt to survive pain, and that muddledness distorted my view of the power that touches my life.
I know the difference between the Faerie King and the God I love, and having that stark a contrast, having that vocabulary, helped me peel back some of the distortion that had been weighing on me.
I looked back at the Isaiah 55 passage and saw it wasn’t designed as an excuse for God being confusing, it was a celebration of his incomprehensible generosity. The same with Romans 11– we don’t have the wiring to conceive of the kind of love and generosity that roots such openness and availability.
That’s why it has to be told to us, and told to us again.
According to a study published in 1998, it takes the average child between four and fourteen exposures to learn a new fact. Some children need over twenty exposures for something to stick.
I am 36 years old. I grew up with sermons and Sunday school, and given the topic I can predict a lot of what’s going to come out of a given pastor’s mouth. I am not short on knowledge, or a critical number of times to hear “Jesus loves me.”
But it took throwing the love of God into stark contrast with the bone-deep fear of power without love before this piece of him broke through (again?): God is dependable.
My lack of understanding (even of big things), and my grief and pain (which are real and often enduring) do not negate the dependability of God.
Since I’m constantly depending on this truth, I had to have known it already, but somehow I felt this other side. A fear of pain. I had my walls up, bracing myself for the time he doesn’t do what I need. And what I’m still wrapping my head around, is that God promises to give us the desires of our heart.
I don’t know how that reads in the original language, but in English that phrasing doesn’t just mean God gives us what we want, he gives us what to want. I put that all in the Mystery category.
There is so much I don’t understand, but I know God wants to give us good things. “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matt. 7:11)
There’s no way for us to completely understand God.
Metaphor, analogy, simile and Story are all essential to drawing near to him in understanding, but the difference between our God and every other entity in eternity is that a) he wants to be known, and b) he is able to make up what is lacking in our understanding.
His constancy, his desire to be in relationship with us, is bigger than our ignorance, confusion, or misunderstanding. I’m thankful for the way God uses even seemingly unconnected elements to reveal and highlight his character, because even if I don’t have enough ink to tell you all God IS, I can know bone-deep what he isn’t, and even find security in that.