“And they all lived happily ever after…”
The majority of stories and the majority of films finish with a happy ending. Some form of adversity is overcome and better times are ahead. When they don’t end this way it can be disturbing – perhaps we even feel a little cheated. We expect things to end well, so when they don’t, the story shocks us and leaves us uncomfortable.
Why do we tell ourselves these “happily ever after” stories? We seem to feel instinctively that obstacles are meant to be overcome. Life is meant to be good and not full of hardship and struggles. Somehow, everything is moving towards what it should be, despite the blips along the way.
Broadly speaking, this echoes the message of the Bible. We have stories with terrible tragedies, loss, trouble, war, death and all the difficult and nasty aspects of life in our world. But, underlying it all, looking beyond it all is the expectation that one day there will be a grand “happily ever after” for the whole world.
So, what is this “happily ever after” that we are looking forward to? Various parts of the Bible portray it in terms of cosmic renewal – like a new creation. It is something that follows judgement and is to last forever. But, what will it look like?
We might want to be given a precise account of what the future life after resurrection will hold, but we don’t get one. The pictures of peace and prosperity are painted using imagery familiar to those of the ancient world – almost an idealised version of what their life looked like. Not surprisingly, when we start guessing we also portray an idealised version of our own life now.
The picture of “heaven” is blurry – it doesn’t offer a clear view, but just a teaser. It entices us, but not enough is revealed for us to be sure how things will be. There seems to be something more important at stake than describing a renewed physical world; heaven is more important than this, it seems. So, what is at the heart of it all?
Behind the lack of detail of the place where we will be, what we will look like and do, etc. is a more fundamental “happily ever after”, which is at the core of all our future hope. At the heart of all of this, what matters most, what we are most looking forward to is not just a new world order; we are waiting for a person. We wait for God. We yearn for God. That is what salvation is really all about – not just a pretty, peaceful world, but being with our God.
The restlessness of every human heart will be met when we are with God, when our Saviour comes to us. We don’t just trust in God so that we can enjoy certain gifts, we trust because we want to enjoy the presence of the Giver Himself.
In many films and books we find powerful love stories where two people overcome adversity in order to be together. Perhaps the setting may be a war, where one of them has had to go overseas. They are kept apart, given only fleeting reminders through the letters they send.
The lovers wait, they yearn for one another. They want to be together again, but will they both make it? Through twists and turns the story takes them, temptations to give up arise along the way – possible new loves come and go. They hold fast, trusting that in the end they will live together happily ever after. In a way, the final destination, the final place where they are to live isn’t really important. Their love is what matters.
Could this be your story? Could this be our story – the story of God and His people? Could this be the ultimate love story? If so, we can look forward without fear, knowing that we will live happily ever after, knowing that in many ways the place and details are immaterial.
© Joe Lenton, January 2014 – image © Original Art Photography by Joe Lenton, 2013 www.originalartphotography.co.uk