Most people, including born-again believers, want stories to have happy endings. They want those who deserve punishment to be punished and those who were unjustly accused to be vindicated. If there’s a romance involved, they want the lovers to marry and live happily ever after. They want the plot tied up with a bow and the loose ends pulled into festive curls. They want a happy ending almost like it’s hardwired in them to want a happy ending.
Outside of stories, real life doesn’t always end happily, if you consider death as the ending. Most people die in pain, whether from disease or violence. Some take their own life and die groggily by overdose. Very few “die peacefully in their sleep”, and of those few who do, we have to wonder how peaceful their passing actually was.
Even believers aren’t exempt from experiencing a painful death, as we see in scripture. Jesus died in excruciating agony, as did many of his disciples and followers, as did many of the prophets before them. If Jesus couldn’t arrange for a happy ending to his earthly life, what chance do we have?
The short answer is “next to none”. We have next to no chance of having a happy earthly ending. Even as we live with the joy of God’s Spirit 24/7 as born-again Spirit-filled believers, even as God provides for our needs and wipes away all our tears, we can still anticipate having a painful death someday. That’s why Jesus said that those who endure to the end will be saved. He emphasized the end, because the end, when we’ll be racked by pain, is where it will be most tempting for us to give up and betray God.
The best stories build slowly and steadily to a crisis, which then quickly resolves in a happy ending that we didn’t see coming. The contrast between the crisis moment and the subsequent unforeseen and satisfying resolution is what gives the story its emotional punch. It’s the retelling, over and over again, of being stuck between a rock and a hard place (like between the advancing Egyptian army and the Red sea) and then being sprung in a way we hadn’t anticipated that makes sense to us. We not only demand our happy endings, we demand them to happen in such a way that we’re happily surprised and satisfied.
God is only too happy to deliver on our expectations. Granted, those of us who do endure to the end will have to wait a bit for our happy ending, but it will come. Our earthly exit might not be so happy, but we know that our earthly exit is not our ending. It’s the end of our time here on Earth, yes, but it’s not our ending. Our happy ending comes after the Judgement.
Jesus’ death on the cross looked like an agonizing and humiliating defeat. Don’t expect your death to look any better. And yet we know that Jesus was only paying the price that had to be paid in the way it needed to be paid according to scripture and God’s guidance, and that once the debt was paid, the happy ending would begin. And so it did for Jesus, with his resurrection into his new body and his ascension to sit at the right hand of God and be Lord of creation for ever and ever. If ever there was a happy ending, that is it.
Our ending will be just as happy for us, if we endure to the end of our time here. Jesus said we should expect persecutions while on Earth, we should expect to be outcasts, we should expect to be alienated from those we love (but who don’t love God), and we should expect to live in poverty, though not in want. We will never live in want as long as we stay true to God.
The Good Lord always provides.
I anticipate my own happy ending as if the anticipation were hard-wired into me, because it is hardwired into me. God made us to want a happy ending. Our need for a happy ending is as much a part of who we are as our need for food and water and air. We know better than to look to the world for satisfaction, and we will never find our happy ending there, any more than Jesus did.
Our happy ending will only come if and when we make it Home.