Ch 22: The End

One of the main reasons that I write books is for my own edification. I’m not sure if that makes me selfish or not, but it is what it is. I write because I want to understand truth and know the Bible and love Jesus more. I want to be changed by the truth I see, and sitting down at a computer and straining to articulate glory helps me do that. Each book I’ve written has ended up changing my life in one way or another.

This book has been no different. Spending the last eight months thinking about the storyline of the Bible has done more than renew my mind; it has also profoundly reshaped my heart. I don’t say this to toot my own spiritual horn or brag about my sanctification. Rather, here in this final chapter, I am profoundly grateful to God for the work he has done in my life. His promises have become more precious, his glory has become sweeter, and the significance and centrality of Jesus has become greater in my soul. All this is of grace, and I am thankful.

Of all the things in the narrative of king and country that have moved me, the ending of the story in particular has taken on massive significance in my life. In many ways, it has become the lens through which I now view the world. The “happily ever after” of the Bible’s story is so comprehensive that it is able to take hold of every circumstance and every struggle and transform them. This really has affected every area of my life. My enjoyment of beautiful spring mornings has been heightened by homesickness, stirring my longings for a restored Eden and remade world. My appreciation for music and architecture and sunsets and pizza has taken on eschatological dimensions, as I anticipate the unfading glory and joy of the New Jerusalem.

In particular, the ending of the story has changed how I suffer. Now, I’m not particularly well equipped to write about suffering. For much of my adult life, my family and I have been spared the rod of divine testing, and our road has been easy. My trials are relatively light in comparison with many others. But even though my trials have been comparatively minor, they are still mine and I feel them more acutely. But in the past few days, I’ve been given a glimpse of what a difficult life could be like—and in fact what my life may yet turn out to be.

Ten days ago, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. We held her in our arms and rejoiced over this precious life, each little finger and toe an amazing gift from God. Our hearts were full of hopes and dreams and prayers for her.

Last week, we received an unexpected call from her pediatrician. Our daughter’s newborn screening—a standard blood test to check for a whole list of conditions—had come back flagged with an elevated level of a particular amino acid that potentially indicated a serious genetic disorder. If the condition is confirmed, it will mean a high possibility of brain damage and disability, and a devastatingly restrictive diet for the rest of her life.

With that one phone call, our excitement and joy turned to fear and grief. Right now we still don’t know the outcome of this trial. We face a battery of tests and specialists over the coming weeks to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. This may turn out to be a minor bump in the road, a short-term scare. Or the rest of our lives (as well as hers) may be dramatically altered, with our hopes and dreams for our daughter shattered. We don’t know yet. And not knowing is half of the fear.

But amidst the tears and prayers and worries, I have found a surprising hope rising in my soul. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which I have long known and loved, has taken on new significance. “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Yesterday, as I battled worry and grief, the Holy Spirit brought this verse to my mind with a still, small voice. And rising up from the promise came a new lifeline of hope, a new spin on a familiar promise. “Brendan,” the Spirit whispered to me, “Fear not. Every loss is restored in the end.”

For those who are part of the God-Man’s kingdom, this is the happy ending we have to look forward to: he makes all things right again. “Making all things right” doesn’t just mean that things that were bad will be better. It means that in the end, every trial is compensated, every wrong is corrected, and everything we’ve ever lost is returned to us. Every shattered dream will be realized. Every tear ever shed in this weeping world won’t just be wiped away; it will be accounted for, weighed on the scales, and paid back in full. “The years the locusts have eaten will be restored” (Joel 2:25). Pastor and poet John Newton, writing about a dear friend’s long suffering and tragic death, said, “Jesus is rich enough, and eternity is long enough, for him to make abundant amends for whatever his infinite wisdom may see right to call them to, for promoting his glory in the end.”

Whether this current trial last a week or a lifetime, I have a newfound confidence flowing from this story’s ending: it’s all paid back in the end. Whatever suffering King Jesus, in his infinite love and wisdom, sees fit for us to walk through, he will make abundant amends. This affliction, which is truly “light and momentary” even if it lasts for the rest of our lives, is preparing for us an everlasting weight of glory beyond all comparison. Every grain of suffering on this side of the scale is being matched by immeasurable mountains of grace on the other.

This story’s conclusion is an anchor of hope in the storms that batter us in this life. No matter how dark the days may seem, no matter how bleak the situation is, the hope of restoration pierces the gloom with the promise that this too shall pass. When it doesn’t look like everything sad is coming untrue, when it feels like evil is still ascendant and the snake is still on the throne, all the stories are still true. Death will be rolled back as sure as the stone rolled back from Jesus’ tomb. The night of weeping will most certainly give way to morning’s song. All shall be well.

The story ends with words of anticipation:

He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

Every tear wiped away, the scourge of death silenced forever, all pain erased permanently. This is the hope that sustains when the heart is heavy. So whether you’re fearing the onslaught of sorrow, or whether you’re grieving with no end in sight, here’s what you need to know: there will be a final tear. In this weeping world, one day, one tear that falls will be the last tear. One genetic disorder will be the last genetic disorder. One cancer diagnosis will be the last cancer diagnosis. One day, one divorce will be the last divorce. One child who dies will be the last child to die. One heartbreak will be the final heartbreak.

And until the dawn of joy, every tear brings us closer to that final tear. Every tear that my wife and I—and you—weep over our broken dreams moves us closer to the end of the story and the hand that will wipe them all away. The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter every day, and will soon break forth with light and beauty that will scatter darkness and ugliness forever. “In the end,” J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.” This is what resurrection means: the sadness and darkness passes, permanently. Death dies. Jesus wins. The empty grave overtakes all things. And in the end, Easter comes for you.

The beloved hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” contains a verse that has sustained generations of suffering saints. It speaks of the great and glorious end of heaven and earth united at last, the whole world becoming Eden again, the curse rolled back permanently.

This is my Father’s world, O let me never forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done.
Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.

Even though the battle is not done, the war has been won. The God-Man is on the throne, and Jesus shall most certainly receive the reward of his suffering. He—and we along with him—will tread Satan into the dust, and every wrong will perish along with the snake. Joy will take the place of sadness, beauty will be exchanged for ashes, and worship will eclipse weeping.

This is the end to which everything is inexorably moving, drawn along by the hand that has been writing the story from the beginning. All of history, from the first bite of the fruit to the final tear, will prove in the end to be a fleeting shadow, a prelude to restoration. This is how the story of king and country concludes, with light and high beauty forever. In the end, God himself will make amends for everything we have suffered. In some mysterious way that is hard to comprehend in the midst of pain, everything will be more beautiful for having once been so broken. We will see with our own eyes and finally understand that it was all worth it.

So get your hopes up; the best is yet to come. Our best days are ahead of us, and always will be. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, the best will still be to come. The ending of this story will turn out to actually be the beginning of the real Story, a story going on and on, greater and greater with every turn of the page, rising into mountaintops of joy that we have not even imagined. Every day will be better, ever joy will be sweeter, every glory will be brighter, forever and ever without end. And, finally and fully alive in God’s Country, reigning alongside God’s King with unending joy, we will all live happily ever after.

The end.

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