‘A happy ending is just a story that hasn’t finished yet!’ In recent years, even Hollywood has come to recognise this. Not just using the phrase as witty retort from the lips of Angelina Jolie. But making films that embody this truth.
Hopefully, the days are passing when ‘good triumphs over evil’. This has always been a pagan story line, enjoyed by those in power and totally at odds with the narrative of Scripture. In the Bible, good does not triumph over evil: innocent people suffer, bad people prevail, the humble are crushed by the powerful.
A careful look at the Old Testament shows how, during the course of time people came to realise that for countless victims, justice is not enjoyed on this side of the grave. So for God to be just, it was slowly revealed that there must be some form of life beyond that grave. Well, thank God for that! But it does not change the fact that for now, their lives did not have a happy ending.
For too long, Christians have bought into the pagan belief in a happy ending. And now the secular world is offering stories nearer to Scripture than many Christians can cope with!
The blockbuster, “No Country for Old Men” was one of the most refreshing stories I have enjoyed for some time, because it does not have a happy ending. The questions of who is good and who is bad are not easily answered, but for sure – at the end of the story, unjust deaths have not been avenged, evil has not been held to account. In the end, evil triumphs over good. Although, at the end of the film, the story has clearly not finished!
This is far closer to the pattern of Scripture. If it is true that a happy ending is just an unfinished story, then this is equally true of any kind of ending. Our desire for everything to be put right is natural, but it is deeply challenged by Scripture. The later parts of the Old Testament are full of agonised cries for justice by a people stuck in the midst of apparently endless suffering. Such readings however, tend not to be picked for use in our worship or our songs. The practice of lament, a key element of biblical worship, has little place in our contemporary patterns of worship.
How many worship leaders would dare to accuse God of forgetting them? How many songs demand justice from God? How many intercessions question God’s apparent inaction in our world? Much easier to be upbeat, to fast-forward to a happy ending, to buy into the power of positive thinking.
In a world saturated with the desire for convenience, it is hardly surprising that we have inherited a brand of ‘instant’ Christianity that achieves quick results with minimum effort: boil-in-the-bag worship, flat-pack mission, while-u-wait prayer ministry. All designed to bring a premature happy closure to our struggles.
But until the real plight of our world is taken seriously, we cannot pray well to the God of Scripture. Until we take death seriously, resurrection remains a superficial, feel-good, pagan distortion of the gracious power of almighty God active in our world today. Until we abandon our desire for a premature happy ending, the great story of Scripture will not be embodied in our lives.
(Published in BT, March 08)