The Gospel as Tragedy-Comedy-Fairy Story

Unknown-1In my last post I talked about how Christianity is the greatest possible story. In this post I want to unpack the essence of the Christian story, or the gospel, understood as a three-act play: TRAGEDY—COMEDY—FAIRY STORY.

As a foil, I want to use Frederick Buechner’s excellent (and highly recommended) book: Telling the Truth. In it, Buechner describes tragedy as follows:

[Tragedy] is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony, slob. That is tragedy”[1]

The first act of the gospel story is man’s tragedy—something has gone drastically wrong, the world is not the way it is supposed to be. But next—the divine comedy—God’s answer to man’s tragedy.

The Tragic is the inevitable. The comic is the unforeseeable. How can Donald Duck foresee that after being run over by a steamroller he will pick himself up on the other side as flat as a pancake . . . but alive and squawking? How can Charlie Chaplin in his baggy pants and derby hat foresee that though he is stood up by the girl and clobbered over the head by the policeman and hit in the kisser with a custard pie, he will emerge dapper and gallant to the end, twirling his invincible cane and twitching his invincible mustache?…it is the news that [in spite of ourselves] we are loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is comedy.[2]

The incarnation and atonement are God’s response to man’s tragedy—and it is unexpected, unforeseen, it is high comedy. Who would have predicted that God becomes man? It would be like C.S. Lewis entering Narnia (as a talking animal undoubtedly), or J.R.R. Tolkien entering Middle Earth (surely as a Hobbit)! It is utterly unexpected. And it sets the stage for the next act, the unending fairy story:

What gives [fairy tales] their real power and meaning is the world they evoke. It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world were terrible things happen and wonderful things too….Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily every after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name.”[3]

Living happily ever after…isn’t this how all fairy stories go? They don’t end, they continue on forever. And this is the “good news” of the gospel—the sudden joyous turn that is God’s overwhelming love and mercy to us on the cross provides the means for man to live forever as originally intended. Tragedy does not get the last word!

This story—the gospel story—is a story that we all long for; we long for a world that is supernatural, where death is cheated, love is unending, victory is snatched out of the hands of defeat, and goodness wins in the end.

We all long for it—but, importantly, is it true? Two comments. First, I suggest we pay attention to our longings, because our longings reveal something that we have lost—we were created to know God, to experience life as it was supposed to be—and because of tragedy—because of sin and death and destruction—we have lost our way. So, pay attention to your longings—let them awaken you out of slumber. Second, we know the gospel is true because of Christ’s resurrection from the grave. Because of the resurrection, the gospel story is not one more good story that we enter into for a time, only to re-emerge into “the real world” when we put the book down, or walk out of the movie theatre. Because the resurrection happened, Jesus has punctured a hole between life as it is and life as it will be—between what is the case and what ought to be the case—and He bids us to come follow Him.

Here is an excellent discussion by Tim Keller on Tolkien’s use of fantasy to highlight the gospel story:













[1] Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale (New York: Harper One, 1977), 7.

[2] Ibid., 57 and 7.

[3] Ibid., 81.

5 Responses to The Gospel as Tragedy-Comedy-Fairy Story

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