I had some significant, deep healing after reading Walter Wangerin’s The Book of the Dun Cow. I realized, through an interesting interchange in the book, that I’d been masking God by my own pain, projecting my own warped perspective on Him. I wrote the part of a chapter (of a book that never got published) about its affect on me:
Many of us view God as if he wears a disguise—a costume that looks like all our pain and fear and worry woven together. When we see him, we see our experience. Those who have happy lives tend to view God joyfully, as a Father who takes great care of his children. Those who live difficult lives tend to view God skeptically, intellectually knowing he is good, but not truly embracing his goodness.
Pertelote, a young hen in Walter Wangerin’s award-winning book The Book of the Dun Cow, had the latter experience. Bent under the tyranny of Cockatrice, a rooster who ruled with an iron beak, Pertelote recoiled in his presence. Half gray-scaled snake, half rooster, Cockatrice was the poultry world’s Hitler. One day, Pertelote escaped Cockatrice’s domain, but her pain and fear still resided within her. She made her way down river, tattered and worn out. There, across from her, stood another rooster, Chauntecleer.
Chauntecleer, a kind rooster, had been wading through mud, graying his lower feathers. He did not know it, but the dried mud made him resemble the evil-scaled Cockatrice.
When Pertelote spied him, she screamed. She thought he was Cockatrice, coming back to torture her.
Later, when Pertelote was safe within Chauntecleer’s kingdom, she agreed to marry him. Before they were married, Chauntecleer was troubled afresh by her first reaction to him at the river.
“My beautiful Pertelote,” he asked, “are you afraid of me?”
She said no.
He puzzled over her response. “But there was a time . . . when you were afraid of me, isn’t that so?”
Again she said no.
He asked again.
Again she said no.
By now, he was really confused. “But you screamed at me!”
“Yes I screamed at you,” she said.
Eventually, Pertelote shared that she thought he had been the evil Cockatrice. “Chauntecleer, what I thought I saw in you was not there. What I saw I should not have seen. My seeing was not true: The thing was not there, nor could it ever be there in you. I know that. My imagination made me afraid.”
We are a lot like Pertelote. When we see God, his goodness is masked by the pain of our past. We assign his muddiness to scales. We scream in fear because we cannot conceive of God as being for us. Many of us fail to risk because we cling to an inaccurate view of God. He’s wearing the distressing disguise of our pain. We project on him our humanness. We misunderstand him.
We forget that he is utterly different, that his ways are unfathomable. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
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