The mean old witch meant to eat the boy until Gretel shoved her into the roaring fireplace, and the evil Queen tried to kill Snow White but fell dead at her rival’s wedding. And so rather than the Old Testament being the stuff of fairy tales, it would seem the fairy tales are the rejected lessons of an angry Old Testament God. And I read them to my preschooler, like I read to her about little boy David killing grown men with rocks and Daniel being thrown to lions by a king who liked him, and then I tuck her in and sing Jesus Loves Me and kiss her and pray with her after lights out that God will help us to love others as He does.
The Queen fell down dead. The book said it and I read it outloud on a pink toddler bed to a wide eyed girl in footie jammies. Unfettered by the complications of grace and redemption the classic tale satisfies our need for vengeance, but something curious was happening as I read it this night, something the writer may not have counted on – children look for grace intuitively, and cry foul when it doesn’t arrive. Until taught otherwise, they hope everyone will say sorry and be friends. The rule of my daughter’s experience thus far is always to be rescued from our own fit-throwing and walked through reconciliation to redemption.
But the Queen choked on rage and fell down dead. And so of course she asked why.
Because hate and selfishness ruin our lives, and they ruined the Queen’s life and she died.
I’ve made a bedtime career of inadequate but sincere explanations.
But why did she die?
Because, like I said, hate takes all the good parts of our life away, so to show that in the story, the Queen died.
How did she die?
I don’t know. She just fell down. Maybe she got so mad she choked somehow. Let’s finish the story.
We did, but whenever we reach a point like this in a story, whether of Bible or fairy tale or of natural world with its poison and fangs and plants that trick flies into dying in their embrace, I can see she’s hung up at the point where things stop making gentle sense, and the rest of the story doesn’t fully register. She is still shocked when love doesn’t win, like we grown ups are surprised when it does.
We turned out the lights and I knelt down beside her pillow and prayed that Jesus would help us not be selfish because that ruins our lives, and she interrupted me. Ask Jesus to help the evil Queen be nice again so she won’t die.
ASK JESUS TO HELP THE EVIL QUEEN BE -
OKAY, okay. I will. And Jesus, please help the evil Queen be nice again and learn not to be so selfish and hateful so she won’t ruin her life.
And she was silent then, that weight off her mind, the matter now resolved and order now restored to Creation. Because Love couldn’t help but win, and it hadn’t yet till then.
She understands grace because she has need of it every day, and she has need to show it just as often. She pulls the cat’s tail just for kicks and melts down in stubborn display in the middle of sidewalks and adores the word no, usually shouted. And we raise our voices and selfishly ignore her when we need a break and let our moods dictate our discipline methods. She’s familiar with mercy because it has a place in her life in both directions.
It seems all the best stories are bloody somehow. We are bad at love as a species, and the best stories are real, so a lot of them are about us being bad at love. I want, on one hand, to shield her from that and show her only goodness. But goodness, in exclusion, is a lie that will only lead to her disillusion. Like nature, humanity is red of tooth and claw. Sometimes evil queens choke on rage and fall down dead, and sometimes mean old witches want to eat boys alive until their sisters shove them into ovens. And I can’t hide that from her. Her preschool Bible of bright colors has more death than a mafia movie. She will learn of hate.
I just hope she never stops expecting love to win, and praying for evil Queens to be nice again instead of fist-pumping when they fall down dead, and I hope she will know even as a bruised adult that the love of God is not obscured and sullied by the hate of man, even when that hate is co-opted to serve the purposes of a puppet God on the strings of frightened theologians.
It meant as much or more to me that she worried for the evil, loveless Queen and longed for her rescue than anything she has ever said directly about Jesus, because it showed in her spirit she understands Jesus better than most grown ups. Love your enemies. Pray for those who look for your demise. No one is beyond redemption. Those who hate are their own most pitiful victims. Pursue the hopeless. Intercede for the those who know not what they do.