If ever there was a self-indulgent article, then this is it. Not because I love unicorns, and want to share my weird fixation with horned horses with a wider audience. But because of my own utter inadequacy as a Christian, and indeed as a human being. Allow me to explain.
I was on holiday recently, sitting in the garden of an Old English Country Pub. The setting was idyllic: rolling hills behind us which extended out to the Dorset coastline; blistering sunshine (by English standards at least), and a brood of happy children around me, all slurping on ice creams and briefly quiet as a result. Everything was going my way, when suddenly, an opportunity for evangelism fell into my lap. Just in case you're still feeling confused by the title of this article, it did not involve the arrival of a unicorn, or at least, not exactly.
At the next table in the garden, a man was holding court among his friends, talking sarcastically about the merits of religion. It's never nice to hear as a believer, of course, but I wasn't about to leap in and challenge him to a public debate. However, my ears pricked up when he began comparing belief in God to thinking that fictional, magical creatures were also real. He talked about elves and trolls (naturally; this was an Old English Country Pub after all), but then moved on to Unicorns. And then he uttered a sentence that I will never forget, because it was the greatest open door to an evangelistic response that I can remember:
'If someone could show me a unicorn in the Bible, I'd go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life.'
That's right. There's the unicorn you've been waiting for. Now, while that may not immediately appear to be the great open door to evangelistic witness, I should explain that it is. Because, while if you're reading a modern translation you'll struggle to find any references to winged one-horned beasts of any kind, the King James Version has loads of them. Nine, to be precise. two in Numbers, two in Job, three in the Psalms and one each in Deuteronomy and Isaiah. Exact references are listed below, but the general gist is similar to the line found in Psalm 22, where the writer pleas: 'save me from the lion's mouth: for thou has heard me from the horns of the unicorns.' Or Numbers 23:22, which says: 'God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the horns of a unicorn.'
I knew all this before I sat down in that pub. So you see, I had a ready-made answer for the hope I have, and for the (let's call him) seeker's great question. I could have shown him nine unicorns, and ensured his faithful lifelong church attendance thereafter. But I didn't. I sat stock-still in the garden, awkwardly whispering to my wife that 'he's wrong you know, there are unicorns in the Bible.'
Now of course, he almost certainly wouldn't have honoured his loud and somewhat alcohol-affected promise to become a church goer if I'd pointed this out. Indeed, he and his rather burly friends would have probably turned a torrent of abuse upon me and my young family instead, but honestly, I felt a bit disappointed with myself for not even trying. It made me wonder exactly what it would have taken to make me walk across the room and share my faith with that man, given that even an open goal like biblical unicorns couldn't persuade me.
So I've written this, in the vague and uncertain hope that somehow the man in question might happen upon these words, and not only be persuaded that the unicorn is indeed the most biblical of all mythical creatures, but also in some unfathomable way that the death and resurrection of Jesus are true and demand his instant conversion. I appreciate that this is a stretch.
And yes, I know that the unicorns in the Bible are probably not the same as the flying horned horses found on a million children's t-shirts, and that actually they were a kind of large, now-extinct ox, but please don't be one of those people who spoils everything. If you're reading this, boozed-up loud Dorset beer garden man, Jesus loves you, and unicorns are for real.*
*You can find unicorns, if you want to, in the following verses in the King James Version of the Bible: Numbers 23:22, 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9 & 10; Psalm 22:21, 29:6 and 92:10, and Isaiah 34:7. Making looking them up your next great youth group game!