Mermaids. Almost from the dawn of time, mankind has told stories of these half-women, half-fish creatures.
But why? After all, of all the things we think of as attractive, fish don’t usually make the list. I’m not convinced they ever did, either.
There are many theories, of course. We’ll cover some of them as we look for God in these aquatic stories. However, I think the primordial reason is because mermaids are the “natural” creatures to symbolize a man’s love for the sea.
Mermaids and the Sea
The sea is beautiful, and almost always a “her” in thoughts and expressions. Those who love the ocean hear her call in their hearts: a song as hypnotic as any the mermaid is said to possess. Those who hear this song cannot forsake it – it is a drive, a need that cannot be put aside. And yet, the sea is treacherous, too. It is a harsh mistress that ever beckons a sailor from home and loved ones. What is more, it can cause terrible, watery deaths.
And yet they cannot resist the call, for they are deeply in love with the sea.
And so it should come as no surprise that the sea is personified in ancient thought. The sea itself is alluring, and yet dangerous. Just like the mermaid. The mermaid is the sea, and the sea is the mermaid. They are both, and, in the ancient mind.
And yet, the mermaid still endures. Despite eons of change, she still lives in our imaginations. What’s even more incredible is that, in many ways, she is the same as she always was: sometimes lovely, sometimes terrifying, and always desirable.
What is so enduring about the mermaid? What is it about her that makes every man want to meet one, and every woman want to be one?
Why the Mermaid?
That answer has nothing to do with the sea, but a great deal to do with us. I think we can get some clues from John and Stasi Eldredge’s books Wild at Heart and Captivating. According to those books, the “question” a man asks himself is, “Do I have what it takes?” Does he have what it takes to accomplish his goals, his dreams, his desires? In essence, he looks to his deeds to measure his worth.
On the other hand, a woman’s question is, “Am I captivating?” meaning, of course, far more than just looks. Is she desirable in soul and heart, worthy of being loved? Unlike the man, she tends to look to her relationships to measure her worth.
Now, I know it’s not as simple as that sounds, but I think the basics are true. After all, Genesis makes it evident that men will tend to look to their deeds and women to their relationships in order to find their worth (Gen. 3:16-19). Certainly there is a bit of both in all of us, but those are the tendencies our hearts lean toward.
And this is the truth the Mermaid speaks to. She speaks to man’s deeds: does a man have what it takes to win the heart of and tame a mysterious, dangerous, beautiful woman? And she is the essence of what a woman wants to be: desired, lovely, longed for.
So, all men want mermaids, and all women want to be mermaids. That is why they have endured through the ages. Their stories answer our “questions” for us.
But more tragically, she answers her own “question,” as so many of us try to do…
The Truth the Mermaid Hides
Sometimes those who don’t believe in Jesus seem to have more fulfilling, vibrant lives than Christians. They have power, beauty, wealth, freedom…They seem to answer their “question” without the need for God.
But, they lack a soul. Or, at least, our mermaids do. Obviously, every person has a soul; however, not every person’s soul is going to heaven. These modern-day “mermaids” – who are able to answer their “question” by their own experiences – lack nothing…except salvation.
These “non-believers” are “mermaids” through and through. Thus these mermaid stories ask us: how do we reach those who are thriving, vibrant, and alive…but without God? How do we tell those who believe they are free that they are actually slaves of sin?
However, the mermaid does not give us a simple lesson. That would not be the mermaid’s way. There is something wildly wonderful about mermaids – otherwise we wouldn’t want to be them or meet them. There is still a divine beauty about them – an Edenic beauty, almost.
And that is the redemption of the mermaid, her second lesson. In her most pure moments, she exhibits an innocence, beauty, and thrill for life that God intended us to have! The mermaid was always meant to be free and lovely – as we were. Yes, our lives are marred by sin, just as the mermaid’s character is often marred by sinful actions. However, we are still meant to be all the mermaid is – only we are meant to be so in Christ.
And so, Christians, too, can be “mermaids” in their Christ-centered freedom. The only question is, which “mermaid” are you?