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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Doctrine of Conditional Joy

G. K. Chesterton wrote in his book, Orthodoxy, "The things I believe most now are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things . . . . Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense."

Sounds strange--fairyland reasonable and common-sensical? He goes on to talk about this spirit of law pervading the realm of fairy tales, "a way of looking at life." Let's take a look at two aspects he proposes.

First, all that takes place in a fairy tale is centered around the docrtine of conditional joy. The word if is paramount. "The fairy tale utterance always is, 'You may live in a palace of gold if you do not say the word cow'; or 'You may live happily with the King's daughter if you do not show her an onion.' The vision always hangs on a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend on one thing that is forbidden.' "

Are we surprised that such rules tug at our very heartstrings in anticipation and curiosity? When we realize that these unpsoken rules seem to mirror our existence we know why they resonate. As Chesterton so duly noted: "In the fairy tale, an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten and cities perish. A lamp is lit and loves flies away. An apple is eaten and the hope of God is gone."

The whole crux of our existence, our entire paradigm, revolves around this doctrine of conditional joy. Humans were given this clear choice: to not eat from a particular tree, for it represented God's right to set the rules. Overstepping was not just an act of disobedience, it caused the whole infrastructure of creation to come tumbling down. Thankfully, from the one act of rebellion all hope of God was not truly lost. At that very moment God produced a remedy for humanity--and guess what--it was another doctrine of conditional joy. We are all so familiar with the scripture: "That God so loved the world he gave his only-begotten son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16). We do not have to search the ends of the earth for a talking frog, gather a bushel of grain from a haystack, or fetch the princess's ring from the bottom of the sea to be given the greatest reward a King has ever offered. All we are required to do is believe in the Son, serve and honor him loyally and faithfully. I, for my part, am glad of the kindness in such an easy, joyful task.

Next post we will examine the second part of Chesteron's observations about fairy land--the curious mystery of repetition. I close with this quote: "I left fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sinsible since."


  1. I remember you. You are very fun.
    Love, Agatha

  2. I really like this idea of conditional joy. It seems like it is inherent in so many places of our lives - it just saturates our lives, because morality and choice are so hinging upon our own internal will-power, and have so much to do with internal realization. Can we bring ourselves to give up the small things of indulgence for the sake of something precious and rare? and can we keep the faith that that rare beauty will find us when we do?