The End of the Story, Part 2

I hate bad endings — I always feel violated and like someone owes me an apology. I paid admission, risked a late fee at the library or wasted life by listening to someone forget the point of their own story while they are telling it to me. It’s a worse feeling when I look at the story of my life and suspect that maybe Someone authored me into a tragedy, or a drama, or an R.R. Martin novel. What if God doesn’t know how to end the story right?

Some people say that Jesus ends shadow and pain by torturing it, not to death, but for eternal life. They even go so far as to say watching those who follow the Liar writhe and burn and scream will make me happy; echoing Thomas Aquinas, Jonathan Edwards preached: "When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned … and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!"[1]

I confess, sometimes I enjoy watching the bad guy get drop-kicked through a plate glass window, in a skyscraper, falling 60 stories, into a nitroglycerin truck with corresponding explosion of ice and fire. It’s the same shadowy feeling that likes catching someone in a lie, delighting in the chance to shoot an intruder or winning an argument by proving someone else wrong. The desire to see others hurt flows out of hurt not justice — Ellen White asks, "What would be gained to God should we admit that he delights in witnessing unceasing tortures?"[2] God and his people become monsters — except God says, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11).

So others argue that if you reject the Light of the world, He will light you on fire. Jesus rains fire down from heaven turning the wicked into a lake of a billion human torches dancing before the throne until they collapse in a pile of ash — leading some to ask the question, “Is the gospel message 'accept my love or die'?”

So well-meaning theologians construct another ending that says God saves everybody! But then you lose free will to a God who won’t take no for an answer, like a drunk frat boy on a first date. Exasperated, others put forward another idea that God just lets sin run its course. God reveals His love on the cross as an example for us and then ascends to heaven so He can sit on a throne — and on His hands. When sin burns itself out, He shows up to take the leftovers home. He’s not violent; He’s just impotent, like a Father who stands by and watches someone molest his children.

If the Hero is too aggressive, He becomes a monster. If the Hero is too passive, He becomes a monster. It seems like almost every eschatological door has a monster lurking behind it. How do you vanquish darkness without becoming an agent of shadow yourself? J.R.R. Tolkein argued that myths, fairy tales and fables act as signposts to the one great story — which is why so many sound similar … and sometimes they surprise with truth.[3]

Several years ago I read a four-volume epic with the usual trappings: Young farm boy discovers he is a legendary hero as he is thrust into a struggle between good and evil (similar to my own story), mentored by an aging warrior, unlocks his unknown powers, which involve learning the ancient language — the true Word — that enables one to shape reality. The boy embodies the hope of overthrowing the evil wizard that has enslaved the world in darkness for thousands of years.

Nearly 3,000 pages of questing, training, romance and battles, and finally the hero and the great villain meet. Will the hero vanquish evil with the sword? Or by manipulating elements? Instead, the hero is broken and lies bleeding out at the feet of Galbatorix. My first thought is, "I’ve been deceived by a dumb ending."

And then, the hero utters something in the ancient true language and “the lines upon Galbatorix’s face deepened, and his eyes bulged from their sockets, ‘What have you done?’ he said, his voice hollow and strained. He stepped back and put his fists to his temples. ‘What have you done!’”

The hero replies, "Made you understand.”[4]

The ancient fiend collapses crying out from the pain and grief of a full, objective, absolute understanding of every joy and every agony he has caused everyone since the day he was born. As the hero and heroine rush out of the crumbling fortress, they hear the dark wizard speak a phrase in the ancient true language: “Be not.” In a flash the evil one is vaporized — having unmade himself rather than endure anymore understanding. The Liar crumbles under truth — reminding the reader that darkness cannot overcome the light.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God: a Sermon Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741, 3rd ed. (Boston: J. Kneeland, 1772).
[2] Ellen White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan During the Christian Dispensation, 11th ed. (Oakland, Cal., New York: Pacific Press Publishing Company, 1888), 536.
[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, J., "On Fairy Stories," accessed Oct. 2, 2015, http://www.rivendellcommunity.org/Formation/Tolkien_On_Fairy_Stories.pdf.
[4] Christopher Paolini, Eragon (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003).
January 15, 2016 / Perspective
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