What Happened to the Unicorns?

Terry Lieb Doubt and Questions, Fear-based Religion, Judging Others 2 Comments

The sanctuary was filled with alligators!

There were also long-necked geese (I’m sure some of the older folks were concerned about the carpeting!), humpty-backed camels, some excited chimpanzees, and they’d even managed to somehow fit an elephant through the front door. But most extraordinary of all were the unicorns. I had never seen such a herd of the magical creatures!

It was Sunday morning and the children’s choir was singing The Unicorn Song, the charming piece by Shel Silverstein and set to music by the Irish Rovers, which imagines that the unicorns were busy playing when Noah’s ark was boarding which is why there are no unicorns today. If you’ve never heard it, I encourage you to take a minute to have a listen.

As delightful as the song is, though, it’s really the animated motions that go with each of the animals that has made it such a perennial classic in churches. And this performance was no exception! The kids threw themselves into it, snapping their arms together like alligator jaws and scratching their armpits like monkeys. The congregation was spellbound!

One little girl upfront with curly pigtails and a smile that threatened to split her ears open particularly captured my attention. While the other children watched the leader for direction, she made eye contact with each member of the congregation as she flawlessly executed her moves, pouring emotion into every animal role. Her alligator was scary, her chimpanzee entertaining, and her elephant impressive, but she really came to life when she put her pointer finger on her forehead and became a unicorn. Her expression changed somewhat when they came to the last verse about how the unicorns cried as the flood waters carried them away, but she perked up again when the audience exploded with applause.

After the service, I caught up with the girl and her parents to tell them I thought they had a Broadway star in the making. 

I turned to the little girl. “I have the sense that you like unicorns,” I said.

“I love unicorns!” she countered. “Did you see the movie?”

I admitted I hadn’t. It was obvious from the puzzled look on her face that she found that hard to believe. Her mother held up four fingers, which I took to mean they’d had four trips to the theater.

“I like most of the song,” the girl continued, “except for the part when the waters came down and drowned all the unicorns! Why did God do that when they didn’t do anything bad?”

Everyone went silent, including her siblings. She looked at me squarely in the eye, as did the rest of the family, like they actually expected me to answer this rather challenging theological question!

I immediately flashed back to an early experience I had that was perhaps one of the most pivotal in my entire faith journey. I was eight years old and at vacation bible school. That morning the story was about Noah’s ark. I had heard the story many times before but this time I heard it somewhat differently. My attention shifted from how this God was saving Noah and his family along with some select animals to the children my age and little babies drowning just outside the ark. I remember thinking specifically of my best friend, Frisky, a mixed mutt not always well behaved who would have never made the cut for the ark. It was also clear to me that I, like Frisky, probably would not have been “good” enough to be saved. With my undiagnosed ADHD, I was always getting into some kind of trouble or another. 

Terry with his dog

I asked the teacher, “What happened to all the children, little babies, and puppy dogs that were not part of Noah’s family? Did God drowned all of them?”

The teacher was used to my “interesting” questions. A friend of the family once said, “Terry has more questions than a quiz show host but there are two big differences: the host stops after half an hour and you can turn them off whenever you want to!” Although the teacher tolerated my constant questions, she seldom attempted to answer them and this time was no exception. She quickly moved on in the story, but after class she called me aside and said she would ask the pastor to talk with me about my questions.

The pastor showed up a few days later asking if he could talk with me about some questions I had about the Noah’s ark passage. Mom agreed and said she wanted to sit in because she was interested in hearing his answers to my questions, too. The pastor started by saying that the focus of the story was on how God saved and took care of the people who “followed his word,” not on the people who didn’t listen to him. Then he told me, “Questions are okay sometimes, but most of the time we need to just accept what the Bible tells us.”

My response was rather immediate. “I don’t like your God!” 

No one spoke for what seemed like an eternity. 

Eventually my mother thanked the pastor for taking the time to talk with us and politely led him to the kitchen door. As soon as he left, Mom quickly explained that there aren’t good people and bad people but rather there is saint and sinner in each of us. Second, the God she knew welcomed questions and celebrated those who had the courage to ask them. God felt that asking questions proved we were actually thinking about the Bible stories.

“Why did God drown the unicorns?”

My mother’s openness to my challenges, the fact that she took them seriously and didn’t try to give me easy answers to tough questions, and her belief that God himself wants us to wrestle with the hard issues all laid the foundation for my lifelong faith journey that has been constantly evolving over the past 60-some years. I have never stopped asking questions and my faith has only deepened and grown over time. What a gift that woman was in my life!

I looked back at the little girl who was still expectantly waiting for me to answer her question (as were the rest of her family!).

“That is an excellent question!” I said carefully. “I had a very similar question when I was your age. My concern was about God drowning all the puppy dogs and little babies. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and I’m not at all convinced that God drowned the puppy dogs or little babies—or the unicorns! That’s just not the God I have come to know.”

The little girl grinned. The parents looked like they’d dodged a bullet.

I held my breath, just hoping that she wouldn’t follow up with, “So where are the unicorns then, Mister?”

Questions for Deepening Your Faith Journey

1. How would you have answered this young, but profound theologian? How do you feel about the response I gave her?
2. What understanding of God (or “God Image”) does The Unicorn Song and the story of Noah’s ark intentionally or unintentionally support?
3. Does your God punish those folks who are “sinnin’” or does your God practice mercy and forgiveness?
4. Can some of the stories in the sacred text be helpful, transformative, and challenging without being understood literally?
5. Can you accept that to some folks who read the scripture literally, that can also be very helpful in their faith journey?
6. Do you think God welcomes questions? Does your pastor and/or church encourage challenges or shut them down?
7. Do you think questions indicate a lack of faith or do a lack of questions betray a doubt (lack of faith) that the questions can be adequately answered?
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Bernie Minor
Bernie Minor
February 21, 2019 3:21 pm


I’m a firm believer now that bad things do happen to good people. Look at all but one of the apostles, they died martyrs and they were closer to Jesus than you or I will ever be. It all works out according to God’s plan.

Jeri Hagerman
Jeri Hagerman
September 5, 2019 12:21 am

Many of your questions I have had and my experience has been answers come to those who are seeking in many ways, scripture, sermons, daily reads, even FB and children. the answers may not be exactly the same for everyone, nor do I believe the answer is the same for everyone. your answer will be specifically for where you are on your Spiritual journey. Our Father is a loving Father Our experiences happen at the right time to aid Us in our growth. we need to accept these experiences as if we chose these experiences . Resisting is what causes… Read more »