I was thinking last night of all the happy endings in movies, how tragedy strikes and things eventually work out. Or even end up just okay, but resolved. Even in real life, American culture is portrayed that way. "Spun". But life doesn't really turn out happy, does it? Look at 9/11. Yes, we've gone to war, captured some of the bad guys. But just last night, online, I was reading story after story of the brave heroes who cleaned up after 9/11; they're dying of various cancers and diseases as a result of the debris and air quality at Ground Zero. A mere six years later. Regardless of the books and movies produced about the outcome and heroes of that horrific time, these real-life heroes are dying slow, painful deaths as a result of their valor. Lest you think I frown on their actions, blame anyone other than the terrorists or find the heroes diminished, I laud their efforts and results. We owe a great debt to these honorable people. But what happened - is happening - to them is real life. Quite often there are no happy, glorious endings, even for the most noble and generous.
What triggered this was listening to Chris gasp while reading genealogies in Chronicles. He was astonished at all the extramarital sex happening, as well as multiple wives and concubines, among the biblical greats. I think he was especially upset when he got to David, one of his favorites. He went on and on about the number of David's children listed (18?), to which I responded, "Yeah, that's just his sons." "No, just sons by wives, not concubines. And there's a daughter, Tamar." Which led me to Absalom. Talk about a story that's just itching for a happy ending.
One of David's sons, Amnon, falls into lust with a half sister, Tamar. Long story short, he rapes then shuns her (there goes my G rating). Absalom, her brother, finds out and gets angry, but waits when his father ignores the situation. Tamar goes home, "a desolate woman", and we never hear from her again (bad ending #1). Absalom, after TWO YEARS, exacts his vengeance for his sister and kills the evil half-brother. Yay, happy Hollywood ending, right? Except we see, in Scripture, what we don't often see when the cameras stop rolling or the author drops his pen. We see what happens with Absalom afterwards. He becomes a nasty, arrogant, power hungry man, attempting to overthrow his father, nearly succeeding. In the end, years later, he gets hung up in a tree by his luxurious hair and David's right hand man kills him (bad ending #2). David, Tamar's dad, didn't come to her rescue or defend her honor. David, Absalom's dad, was horrified when he learned that his son, who tried to overthrow him, was killed. What a horrible picture.
This story has long fascinated me, for reasons I won't completely divulge here. But one of the things it does is to highlight reality. Tamar was violated and humiliated. Absalom defended his sister's honor. No good seemed to come to either. There simply aren't always happy endings, no matter how good our intentions. And often, especially no matter how good we ARE. Stephen, the first martyr, comes to mind. The Apostle Paul was beaten, jailed, imprisoned, shipwrecked, you name it. Eventually permanently imprisoned, then killed. Scripture is real.
This need for a happy ending seems to be very American. It's what makes us tell our children they can do and be anything, succeed if they have the right attitude and work hard enough. It's just not always true. BUT (and this is a big but), there are such things as peace - in the middle of horrific circumstances; joy - in the midst of great tragedy; love - despite cruel betrayal; hope - when there is no relief in sight. I guess that I'm realizing that life just doesn't look like our Americanized version of happy endings. It looks more like Stephen's. Read with me?
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.
What kind of happy ending is that? What kind of hope does that offer for the brave men and women who toiled for endless days searching for the missing in the Ground Zero rubble, who are now dying as a reward? What hope for the families of the South Korean missionaries recently killed? What hope indeed. Maybe I'll stew on that a bit. I hope you will too.
Until I write again ...
Our Sunday School class has been going through the book of Acts and we covered this story a few weeks ago. I don't claim to be a Biblical Scholar or know all the answers, but it's my belief that Stephen's hope was far greater than mine. How many can say they've actually seen God?
I can see the evidence of God, but I've never actually met Him face to face. I often wonder about God's much more "tactile" relationship with people in the Bible. We don't have very many obvious miracles (those we can see with our eyes or directly correlate with human impossibilities) anymore and although we read that they are not the basis of our faith, I can't help but wonder how cool it would be to have that kind of relationship with Him in this day and age.
Chris is always wishing that he could see God, see the tangible results of His work, i.e. miracles. I think that it hinders his relationship with God at times, that need for proof. And while I was thinking about Tamar and Absalom, reading the account again, I thought of all of the years that passed that we didn't read about, between David's coronation and his death.
Like C.S. Lewis says in The Last Battle - there are centuries and millenia that pass with nothing of consequence occurring. The Pevensie children came when they were needed, so it seemed to them that there was always some disaster or adventure happening in Narnia. Likewise, there are decades and centuries in the OT when no one hears directly from God or sees miracles, that we're aware of.
That said, I think that there were long stretches when giants in the faith, like Abraham, didn't hear from God at all. For instance, when God told him he'd be the father of many nations, it was, what, a decade before he heard from God again? He knocked up Hagar because he'd waited so long without word and no tangible result?
We, on the other hand, have the Spirit Who lives inside us, every day, at all times. He speaks to us in ways big and small. And we have something Abraham, Joshua, even Paul and Peter, didn't have - the revelation in God's complete Word to us. I'm thinking they'd be pretty jealous.
Oh my. I'm preaching. Sorry. Time to step away from the computer.
Nah, don't worry about it. You are right. :)
Wait ... did my genius sister say I'm RIGHT? Sweet!
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