“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” — C.S. Lewis
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” — C.S. Lewis
In some quarters of Christianity (both Orthodox and non-Orthodox) there is a suspicion of anything that is not “useful.” If it has no clear utility for growing the Christian life, then it is to be considered suspicious. And, if it has no clear utility, then it probably should be avoided. Thus, if you are not doing Christian works, then you are required to be praying or meditating upon the Lord. Some interpretations of how the Jesus Prayer are to be carried out would seem to preclude any time for free thought or any time for reading fairly tales or children’s stories.
In fact, utility, carried far enough, could go as far do some of the more conservative Anabaptist, in which anything which detracts or is ostentatious must be avoided. Utility arguments are also found among some of those who argue that we should go to no movies, no dances, no theater, etc. In support of this, I have seen Orthodox quotes from the Church Fathers in which they speak against the theater. However, it should be noted that the restriction against theater did not seem to apply to early medieval morality plays, which means that the objection was more against the type of theater than against theater itself.
But, this is an old argument, for instance if you look at the Gospels, the opponents of the call to repentance played a very modern game of “it does not matter what position you take, we will say you are wrong.” This is the type of argument that the supporters of utility use. In the Gospels, Jesus himself comments that:
And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by all her children.”
In fact, the argument for utility is simply the opposite of the argument that is used against Christians for being too dour and too unsympathetic. It is easy to find arguments that disparage the supposed Puritan bent in Christian culture or that disparage those who dress in plain clothes, or avoid theater, or avoid movies, etc. As I commented, if you are one thing you will be said to be inappropriately dour; if you are the other thing, you will be a winebibber. But, today I am dealing more with those who make the utility argument.
The biggest argument against an utility-only approach is the Bible itself. More than one of the books of the Bible take an imaginative epic-poem approach to communicating truth. For instance, the Song of Solomon takes the shape of an epic romantic love poem. The Book of Daniel is full of imaginative images that evoke ancient myths and legends. The Book of Ezekiel pictures angels in such creative ways that secular oddballs begin to even imagine space aliens. The Book of Revelation looks at history not as a series of discrete sequential events, but rather as a mystical series of overlapping images that draw on past Old Testament history in order to both give us comfort today and a glimpse of what is to come.
In fact, I would argue that God goes out of his way to speak to us in imaginative ways. Yes, he does also speak with us in straight-forward ways, however, much of his communication with us requires that we be an imaginative people who are comfortable with metaphor, with simile, with both propositional interpretation and allegorical interpretation. Looking at Scripture, I think that it is obvious that God wants us to both be logical and be imaginative, to be both practical and imaginatively creative.
It is not surprising to me that God raises up authors such as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, etc. I think it is because we actually become more able to interpret the Bible the more that we read fairly tales and imaginative works. It is not until we stimulate our imagination with imaginative writing that we become more able to look at Scripture and imagine the unimaginable. So long as we look at the Bible only as a guide to salvation and a source of rules, so long will we be unable to really “see” Scripture and to begin to understand the God about which the Bible talks.
Only the imaginative can read books such as the Song of Solomon, Daniel, Revelation, etc., and expect to catch glimpses of all that God has for us. Those who read Scripture only for its utility; those who behave only in “productive” Christian ways ultimately cannot fully understand the very Scripture that they seek to obey. For, the Scripture is not simply a rule book; it is also a book that triggers our imagination so that we may come to better understand the God who made us.
So, please do read fairy tales; do read imaginative fiction; do go look at art; do spend time being creative. You might be surprised at how you begin to understand our God better.