The Horns of Elfland

I go through life with a firm resolve to see what is and react to it. I endeavor to see no more, and no less, than what is there, in order to ensure that I am never caught out in any whim or fancy that leaves me feeling ridiculous. "I am a man now," I say to myself, "and so I must never feel ridiculous." Though I would never consciously hold to the philosophical position, I often enough find myself playing the Materialist as I move through life. "Deal with what is observed in the physical. Not with what you wish to be."

This translates into different conceptions I hold. "Strike at them before they can strike you. Expect the worst from people, because that's often all they're capable of. Don't lift your head above the trench, just stay down in the mud where it's safe."

But there are some days when the mask slips. Some days, I encounter the most sinister evil within others (or myself); I am overwhelmed by the size and strength of the enemy; or I am transported by something so beautiful and lovely that I am left drunk with awe. On those days, I can hear the call through the material noise. I hear the sound of silver horns. The sound cuts through my consciousness and into the core of my being. My mind doffs its drab, utilitarian garb and I am again made aware of things at once nobler, more beautiful, and more dreadful than seems at all possible.

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I now see justice, when once I could see only lawlessness. I now see mercy, when I expect wanton cruelty. I now see hope, when all I had seen before was cause for despair.

In this provoked state of transformation, I am no longer the coward who hides behind the worst-case scenario. I do not look exclusively for the evil in others. I expect Good to come. I anticipate it. I know it is there. I go out into the world around me expecting to find blind men with sight restored, marriages repaired, enemies reconciled, kingdoms crushed, and dead men made alive. To those who stand in the safety of the mundane dark, I am the fool who goes over the top of the trench and into the sunlight, into the range of enemy fire.

"Stop!" I say to myself, "That way lies pain and loss and foolishness. That way lies death."

Sometimes, I listen to myself. I scramble back behind cover and breath a sigh of contented relief. But other times, the call is too strong. It overcomes my doubts and fears.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

’For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When I hear that call, I see myself standing before a King. He looks at me with a gleam in His eye, and with a commanding invitation says, "Follow me, to death and life."

And then I am the fool, riding off in search of the Good.