Between “Once Upon a Time” & “Happily Ever

By: Dr. Warren Gage
Life Between “Once Upon a Time” & “Happily Ever

“The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son…” (Matthew 22:2).

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 and the music in their wide-open and wonder-filled eyes. Stories teach us to imagine. They take us to far away kingdoms and to “once upon a time.” The best stories are always about a wonderful love that wants to happen. We share the dreams of a 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 upon the 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 nearly every known tribe and people group.

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 about the kingdom of heaven, which is “like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son” (Matthew 22:2). We rejoice when the prophet Isaiah tells us that the Lord will one day give us “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3, NKJV), and that God himself loves us, for “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). And 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 folk tales like Cinderella point toward some greater truth. Are they reflections of some grand story? Is their imaginative fiction pointing us toward some factual truth?
Consider another of these perennial stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, the familiar fairy tale of Snow White.

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 come under the spell of death? (Genesis 2:17, 3:6; 1 Timothy 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 (Isaiah 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” (Jeremiah 31:3)? And will the Prince of Life one day rescue us, and bring us with rejoicing into the king’s ivory palace of gold and gladness (Psalm 45:13-15)?
Perhaps in other respects we are like another princess in the stories of the Brothers Grimm. Sleeping Beauty is the story of a lovely princess who was cursed by the spell of a jealous fairy. In this story of a prince who suffered the piercing of thorns for his beloved, do we not hear echoes 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 elation 21:3-5, 22:3)?

What is the secret of the charm of these enchanted stories? Why are they so beloved by the children who hear them as well by 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?

The truth is that these stories reveal the heart of our Redeemer God. They tell the story of the Bible from the perspective of the Bridegroom-King. Now, there are many stories in the Bible telling of the love of God for his people. The Bible tells us that God has the heart of a father when we are called the sons of God (John 1:12). Moreover, God is described as being like a mother who pities us and who desires to gather us to herself (Isaiah 66:13, Matthew 23:37). But these stories are about the bridal love of the Son of God toward his people, who are called the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23, Revelation 21:2). We will look at the Bible for the story it tells of this bridegroom love of the Son of God. Consider this sketch of 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 love, for he could have had another bride with merely the 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 purity and love of the bride for her Beloved Prince was 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 ever after…. ”

This 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 those sacred pages, we read your story—the story of the beloved of heaven’s most royal Prince, Christ himself.

Dr. Warren Gage (@Luke_2427) – Professor of Old Testament at Knox Theological Seminary.
Chris Barber (@Rebrabc) – Attorney at May, Meacham & Davell, P.A. & Knox Seminary Graduate

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