The Greatest Truest Fairy Tale of All
Last Christmas, my husband and I sat behind the orchestra for a performance of Handel's Messiah. Our discount tickets turned out to be the best seats in the house. When Canadian baritone, Brett Polegato, began singing the text of 1 Corinthians 15 (Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed!), a small, gray-haired woman in the third row brought her hands to her face and began to sob.
As Polegato danced agilely on the melody of ancient Christian hope, this woman, whom age had shriveled and stooped, alternated between tears and spellbound gaze. She worked to compose herself, dabbing her eyes and her forehead with her handkerchief. Her daughters, flanking her side, gave reassuring looks. But nearly half of the eight-minute aria, which the Toronto Star recorded as having "brought patrons to the edge of their seats," she heard through her own sobs. From my seat, I was captured less by Polegato and more by this patron. Had she been recently wrecked by grief? Is this why she cried? Or was she suddenly, viscerally seized by the beauty of orthodoxy?
The trumpet shall be sound, and the dead shall be raised!
I'm not sure what could be truer—or more beautiful—than the old, old story that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. In fact, I am quite sure that the truth of orthodox Christian hope is also its beauty, and its beauty is its truth.
Nevertheless, in the Toronto auditorium on this particular night, most of the patrons were far too urbane to consider anything beautiful about orthodox Christianity. Orthodoxy is neither true nor beautiful in global cities like Toronto. It is fanciful. It is sectarian. It is medieval, maybe even moronic. Ours is the disenchanted mood of which Charles Taylor speaks in The Secular Age. This is why Christians are all the more compelled to speak with fluency the true and beautiful gospel to those for whom God is most likely dead, but in the novelist Julian Barnes's words, "miss him" nonetheless.
Before publishing Encounters with Jesus, Tim Keller explained in an interview with CT that this book was an essential precursor to his popular, The Reason for God. "I don't think people would actually sit down and listen to The Reason for God unless they already might wish that Christianity does make sense," Keller explained. "A lot of people aren't going to give the time it takes to think it through if they don't care if Christianity is true. But if you expose people to Jesus' claims and offers, that makes people say, 'That would be great—living water.' It has to make emotional and even cultural sense to people before they sit down and decide if it makes rational sense." Or, in other words, it must be as beautiful as it is true.
The dead shall be raised. Fanciful, indeed. As J.R.R. Tolkien said, the greatest—truest—fairy tale of all.
Jen Pollock Michel is an active member of Grace Toronto Church and the author of Teach Us to Want.