Though you won’t find it in some of the sanitized versions lining the shelves of the children’s section of the library, an unmistakable strain of sheer brutality runs through the traditional folk and fairy tales. It’s frank and unapologetic, this element of violence and cruelty–naked and unadorned. Anyone even moderately familiar with the work of the Brothers Grimm, for instance, knows how truly grim the Grimms can be. Perhaps this is one of the reasons J. R. R. Tolkein suggested that fairy tales were never really meant for the nursery. Their outlook in life is far too broad–and too realistic–for that. –Jim Ware, God of the Fairy Tale, pp. 49-50.
I really like this book, and it will probably wind up in my collection. In this chapter, “Savage World: The Cruelty of Fallen Creation,” Ware reminds us that the brutality and savageness of our world today is nothing new. This world has been a brutal place to live in since the Fall. We live in a fallen and corrupt world where evil lives, and there are no guarantees of safely making it through the forest, down the street, or across the parking lot. In “Hansel and Gretel” we see parental abandonment, child abuse, torture, and cannibalism. Themes with a familiar ring to them. Ware goes on to note brutality in other fairy and folk tales: the giant telling Jack that he will make bread out of Jack’s ground bones, the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, and the tales of Mr. Fox and Robber Bridegroom who lured young, beautiful women into their lavish homes only to murder them.
Ware says, “The point here is not to terrify or titillate. Nor is it to echo the all-to-familiar alarmist message that society today is somehow worse than it’s ever been. On the contrary, what ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and the rest of the fairy tales teach us is that terror, cruelty, and savagery are simply ‘business as usual’ in a tainted and fallen world. We shouldn’t be surprised” (p. 51).
Ware notes that Jesus knew this as well. He warned his disciples that his followers would have trouble in this world. John reminds that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). Christians should be the least surprised over how brutal and savage this world can be. Christians in other parts of the world aren’t surprised. The ones who are suffering persecution for their faith, and have to leave family when they become a Christian to survive, know the truth of Jesus’ words and of fairy tales.
Yet large sections of American Christianity always seem to be surprised by what happens in our fallen world. It makes me wonder if they pay attention to their own beliefs. This world is not a nice place to live, and it will not be until Christ returns and all people and creation are reconciled in him.
Now this is not to say that we do nothing. There is a section of American Christianity that just wants to cover its head, whine to God how horrible this world is, and beg God to take them out of this evil, evil place. But Jesus showed us a different way. He showed us how to live in this evil world: love our enemies, pray for those who despise us, feed the poor, visit the sick and those in prison, and show this evil world a different way to live. Today in church our senior pastor said, “It’s not enough to pray for peace and then go home and do nothing. You have to become a peacemaker.” Paul would call it redeeming the time.
I want to be a peacemaker, but I’m not sure how to do that, but I am praying for God to show me. I know it won’t be popular in a war-mongering society. The war-mongering part of the church really irritates me. Jesus commanded us to be peacemakers, to love our enemies, to care for our enemies if they need it. So when Christians agree with actions that kill people and encourage even more warring ways, it makes me mad. They always cite Old Testament holy war passages, and I want to say, “So the Old Testament trumps the Son of God?” May be I should say it.
I’m not naive–I know there will be times when nations and societies go to war. It does not mean that the Church encourages it. It may be seen as a necessary evil, but it is still wrong. It is still sin. One of the reason I admire Dietrich Bonhoeffer is he never white-washed his role in the plot to assassinate Hitler. He admitted that it was a necessary evil, and that he had to do something to prevent Hitler from continuing his evil, but he always said it was still a sin. And he asked forgiveness.
There is evil in this world. It is a brutal and savage place to live. But Christians are not to be brutes and savages within it. We are the body of Christ in this world, which means we are Christ in this world. To me this means we should be saying and doing the things Jesus said and did: “Your sins are forgiven” to prostitutes, tax collectors and the worse kinds of sinners; “Father forgive them” to those who killed him. He loved his enemies, fed the poor, and alleviated suffering and the effects of sin. He told us to be peacemakers and reconcile the world to him and the Father.
This essay is also posted at Street Prophets.