“You’re doing these youngsters no service, you know,” [Royal] said, looking tired himself. He got to his feet and braced as the train huffed to a sooty platform. “You authors, I mean—this world ain’t no romance, in case you didn’t notice.”
“So I am discovering,” I replied. It was, I suppose, the expected wry answer, and made my host chuckle, but now I am taking it back. I take issue with Royal, much as I came to like him; violent and doomed as this world might be, a romance it certainly is.
-Leif Enger, So Brave, Young, and Handsome1
When I read So Brave, Young, and Handsome, I was struck by the above quote, delighted that the narrator reneged on his agreement that the world wasn’t a romance. I saw Royal’s statement as the classic skeptic, the one who sees “romance” as “escapism.” He is the man who tells his children that they need to start preparing for the “real world” and stop playing make believe in the woods.
The narrator, Monte, on the other hand—with the benefit of the hindsight he has as he’s telling the story of his own interaction with Royal—has a different view of “romance.” He seems to have gathered the perspective that comes from experience: “violent and doomed as this world might be, a romance it certainly is.”
I see Monte’s explanation as a vivid example of a biblical worldview. We cannot avoid the reality of this world. We see its dark underbelly in everything from the news to human trafficking to the person who pushes past us in a crowd without apologizing. This world, and we people in it, are broken, cracked, and bloody.
But as believers, we have a second sight of sorts. We see this world as it once was and as it will be again. We see the “helpers” who run toward tragedy to work, the students who stand for hours in the cold to raise awareness in their community of the 27 million people in slavery around the world, the mothers and father who pour into the lives of their children, even if their spouse has abandoned the family. We know the reality of this world, but we also know its beauty, its light, and its hopeful ending.
Author N.D. Wilson frames the Garden narrative in the language of a classic romance: the dragon came for the woman and the hero did not fight for her. He then compares Adam to Christ, pointing out that Christ is the Hero who fought the dragon for His bride, going so far as to lay down His life for her.2 If that’s not a romance, I don’t know what is.
We live in a world that is a romance, a place where the voice of the Hero is calling out to the woman, wooing her to return to Him, away from the dragon’s jaws. Even we with second sight, though, get caught up thinking like Royal. We’re jaded by the mundane. We’re worn by tragedy.
In his song “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone,” singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson asks, “Don’t you ever wonder why / In spite of all that’s wrong here / There’s still so much that goes so right / And beauty abounds?” He’s right in the middle of this second sight believers have—he sees the world that is, but he also sees the world that was and that will be again.
We live in a world that is a romance, a place where the voice of the Hero is calling out to the woman, wooing her to return to Him, away from the dragon’s jaws.
We are in the middle of the greatest romance ever played out in Creation. We are living an epic of cosmic proportions. We catch glimpses of the greatness behind the veil of wind, but only through a glass dimmed by tragedy, by violence, by apathy.
But don’t be fooled: a romance it certainly is.
This post is adapted by the author from a blog that first appeared at Everyday Liturgy. Cover image is a detail from “Saint George #10” by Justin Gerard.
1 Leif Enger, So Brave, Young, and Handsome (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008).
2 N.D. Wilson, Death By Living (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013).