The Romance of Redemption
Warren A. Gage, Christopher Barber
Life between “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After”
Children love fairy tales. Grown-ups, too, never seem to outgrow the charm of folk tales. We are made that way. Simply read a bedtime story to children and watch the magic in their wide-open and wonder-filled eyes. Stories teach us to imagine. They take us to far away kingdoms, to a “once upon a time.” We hear about fire-breathing dragons and gray bearded dwarves.
We hear about elves and wizards and frightful magical spells. The best stories are always about a wonderful love that comes to be. We share the dreams of a lovely maiden who waits to be rescued. Just when everything appears to be lost forever, the king’s son unexpectedly arrives. His kiss breaks an evil spell and awakens the love of the princess-to-be. The handsome prince carries away his beloved to a castle in the clouds. We snuggle back into our pillow and close our eyes in sleep. Just as we enter the world of dreams, we hear that our newlyweds lived “happily ever after.”
But what do fairy tales have to do with the Christian faith? What does fiction tell us about the gospel, a message grounded in fact? Let’s begin with some facts about fairy tales.
One of the most striking features about folk tales is their universality. Students of literature tell us that the most common folk tale all over the world is the story of Cinderella. A recognizable version of this familiar tale is found among every known tribe and people group. What is so charming about the story of a lovely maiden whose beauty is marred by ashes?
In this familiar story, we are told that Cinderella lives with a cruel stepmother and stepsisters who are jealous of her beauty. The stepmother makes Cinderella work as a scullery maid who must clean out the chimney. The mistreated girl is thus covered in cinders and ashes, which mar her great beauty. One day the king makes arrangements for his son to marry. The king invites the fairest maidens throughout the kingdom to come to a ball in order to discover the lovely young girl who will capture the heart of his son. Through a series of magical transformations, Cinderella is unexpectedly able to come to the ball. She dances with the prince, who falls in love with her. But Cinderella must flee when the magic of the spell begins to fade. As she runs away, she leaves behind her glass slipper. The hapless prince will have no other love. Cinderella alone can satisfy his heart’s desire. So the prince searches for her throughout the kingdom. Only after a great quest does he come to the house where Cinderella lives with her stepfamily. At last, the slipper reveals her beauty, which was hidden behind the ashes, and the prince is reunited with his one true love.
The universal charm of the Cinderella story demonstrates that the human heart longs to love and be loved. God has made us to enjoy and respond to stories about love. This explains why we are so apt to listen when Jesus tells us parables. For example, the Lord tells us that the kingdom of heaven is “like a king who arranged a marriage feast for his son” (Matt 22:2). We rejoice when the prophet Isaiah tells us that the Lord will one day give us “beauty for ashes” (Isa 61:3), and that the Lord loves us, for “as a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Isa 62:5). We live in hope when Jesus tells us, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
So we are prompted to ask whether these folk tales point toward some greater truth. Are they reflections of some grand story? Is their imaginative fiction pointing us toward some factual truth?
Consider another one of these perennial stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, the familiar fairy tale called Snow White. One day a kindly queen was watching the snow fall while she was sewing, sitting in her window. Suddenly she pricked her finger with a needle, and red drops of blood fell upon the white snow on the windowsill. This made the queen wish for a beautiful daughter whose skin would be as white as snow and whose cheeks would be as red as a rose. Upon a day, the lovely Snow White was born, but the good queen died as she was giving birth. Snow White’s father then married a beautiful but proud new queen. When a magic mirror warned the jealous queen that she was no longer the loveliest in the land, she plotted to have the lovely Snow White killed. Snow White escaped and lived among seven dwarves in an enchanted forest. But the wicked queen discovered that Snow White had escaped. So she disguised herself as an old hag and tricked the young princess into eating a poisoned apple. Snow White fell into a death-like sleep. Only the love of a king’s son could awaken her to life again. At last her prince came, and she awoke to him saying, “I love you more than anything in the world. Come with me to my father’s castle. You shall be my bride!”
Is this folk tale somehow a retelling of the gospel? Was Eve, our first mother, like the beautiful princess who was deceived into partaking of a poisoned fruit, which caused her to fall under the spell of death (Gen 2:17, 3:6; 1 Tim 2:14)? Have we then been given the hope that, though our sins are like scarlet, they will one day be made white as snow (Isa 1:18)? Is there a heavenly Prince who seeks us, whispering to us in our most desperate need, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer 31:3)? Will not the Prince of Life one day rescue us and bring us with rejoicing into the King’s ivory palace of gold and gladness (Psa 45:13-15)?
Are we perhaps in other respects like Sleeping Beauty? Once again, the Brothers Grimm tell us of a lovely princess who was cursed by the spell of a jealous fairy. It was told that, before the princess’ sixteenth birthday, she would prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a death-like sleep. The dreaded day came, and the whole palace, including the court and even the animals, fell into a deep sleep along with the princess. A thorny rosebush covered over her father’s palace. But one day, there came a handsome prince, who hacked his way through all the thorns and discovered the princess whose long sleep had not diminished her beauty. When he kissed her, the palace was restored to life and to its former beauty. And the prince, who had suffered so much in order to find his princess, took her at last to be his beloved bride.
Does the Christian not hear in this story of a prince who suffered thorns for his beloved a tale of the thorn-crowned Prince of heaven (John 19:2)? Do we not hope for the day when He will come to remove the curse and restore all things to life and loveliness (Rev 21:3-5, 22:3)?
What is the secret to the charm of these enchanted stories? Why are they so beloved by the children who hear them as well as the grown-ups who read them? Could it be that they capture our imaginations because they intimate a grander story? Do they enable us to dream of a “happily ever after” ending to our own suffering—teaching us through faith to hope in the love of a bridegroom God? Are these fairy tales like the refractions of the rainbow, expressing the wonderful stories of the light of the love of heaven for us?
This book is about the romantic heart of the Redeemer God. It is the story of the Bible from the perspective of the Bridegroom-King. Now there are many stories in the Bible that tell of the love of God for His people. The Bible tells us that God has the heart of a father and calls us the sons of God (John 1:12). God is also described as being like a mother who pities us and desires to gather us to herself (Isa 66:13; Matt 23:37). But this book is about the bridal love of the Son of God toward His people, who are called the bride of Christ (Eph 5:23; Rev 21:2). We will look at the Bible for the story it tells of this bridegroom love of the Son of God. And what is the story we will hear? What is the “fairy-tale like” story of the gospel message of the Son of God?
“Once upon a time there was a King who arranged a marriage for His only begotten Son. The Royal Father chose a lovely bride for His Son, one who would stir every passion in the soul of the Prince. But after her betrothal, the lovely bride-to-be fell under the evil spell of sin and death. Now, all the court of the King expected the handsome Prince to ask for the hand of a more worthy bride, for He could have had another at the mere wish of His heart. But the Father had already chosen the bride, and so the Son loved her for that choice. Now the Bridegroom so loved His betrothed that He was willing to pay an enormous dowry for her redemption. The price He paid was so great that it completely released the bride from the evil spell under which she had fallen. As she waited for her Prince to come for her, the bride’s purity and love for her Beloved Prince were completely restored and immeasurably deepened. At last, the Royal Prince came for His bride to take her to be with Him in His heavenly palace. And thus they lived happily forever after….”
This book is your story, Christian! It is the tale of the passion of the bridegroom God for you, His beloved. It is the record of your heavenly wedding. The royal chronicle of your betrothal is the Bible itself. As we open its sacred pages, we read your story as the beloved of heaven’s most royal Prince.
“Behold, you are lovely, my love! Behold, you are lovely! You have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes! Your lips, O my spouse, drip as the honeycomb, honey and milk are under your tongue!” -Song of Songs 4:1, 9, 11