“The end of a matter is better than its beginning” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
We’ve all experienced the disappointment—you come to the end of a good book, or you reach the conclusion of a great series, or you sit somewhat sorrowfully as the credits begin to roll. There is something inherently disappointing with endings. Okay, so there are occasions they are immensely satisfying—but more often than not that satisfaction does not last. When matters draw to a close, we are strangely left wanting.
Why is that? Why can’t entertainment seal the deal? Why are we so often left longing for something more in this life? Why can’t governments wrap things up? (perhaps that question hits too close to the bone) And why can’t we ever seem to have enough?
These are grand questions that go far deeper to the substance of this life than we can possibly deal with in the short span before us. But let us fix our attention on how disappointing the world’s glorious conclusions tend to be.
To do so, we will consider one of the greatest literary masters of our age: Stephen King (for those of you who didn’t catch the sarcasm in that previous sentence, please allow me to point it out with crystal clarity: I’m being factious about King’s “greatness”). Yes, Stephen King, that over-hyped, over-written sage of pop-literature, but who is no slouch when it comes to crafting a well-devised story. After writing four thousand pages of his “magnum opus” and his “greatest life achievement” in telling a single tale over the course of thirty years, he stops. He just stops. He doesn’t conclude. With 10 pages remaining in his epic, he offers his reader the chance to just walk away. He speaks directly to the audience and says:
“I hope you came to hear the tale, and not just munch your way through the pages to the ending. For an ending, you only have to turn to the last page and see what is there writ upon. But endings are heartless. An ending is a closed door no man can open. And so, I tell you this: You can stop here. Should you go on, you will surely be disappointed, perhaps even heartbroken. There is no such thing as a happy ending. I never met a single one to equal “Once upon a time.” Endings are heartless. ‘Ending’ is just another word for goodbye.”
There is a good bit of the author’s view of the world contained in those few sentences, but setting that rabbit aside, do you hear therein the world’s deep dissatisfaction with endings? The world can’t deliver—and therefore endings ring hollow. What good is a conclusion if it truly can’t transcend? What hope is there, well, without hope? I guess we just have to enjoy the journey then, because, after all, what more is there?
The bards of the earth leave us unsatisfied. It is possibly one of the reasons why Milton’s Paradise Lost is more popular and enjoyable than Paradise Regained. It may be a contributing reason why Dante’s Inferno is more engaging than his comparatively dull and lullsome Paradiso. Endings just can’t live up to expectations. Sure we can conceive of loss and judgement—but what of glory?
God’s word affirms the opposite of what we're offered from the world. The wisest man declares in Ecclesiastes that the conclusion of a matter is actually better than its beginning. Sorry Stephen King, but God disagrees with you. A genuine “happily ever after” is superior to “Once upon a time”. But why doesn’t it seem like that is the case?
Thankfully God has answered that question too. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul says: “No eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”. And while Paul goes on to say in the very next verse that the Spirit of God has revealed to us what is to come, his previous point still stands. We simply cannot comprehend the fullness of what awaits!
Endings are hard, because we can’t conceive of anything greater than the greatest aspects of our present experiences. We think heaven and the consummation will sort of be one constant amalgamation of all the best stuff of this life—or at least a little bit better. That’s hogwash. Rubbish compared to what truly is to come. And yet, we can only receive this truth by eyes of faith—not in any way with eyes of sight. We humans have a hard time conceiving of something better, something greater, something so far exceedingly abundantly above all that we could even ask or think, that we tend to settle for greatness we’ve already known. And let’s be honest, the greatness we’ve already known isn’t all that great to be the stuff of glory. It is after all, just a taste. When considering a mere taste, what child is permanently content licking the icing beaters when the cake is still forthcoming?
“No eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9) Oh, we believe what is ahead, we hope for it and long for it. But we do not know the wonder the Lord has prepared for his children. Until then, any attempt at transcendent endings will always pale in comparison to what awaits the children of God.
In that sense then, let us content ourselves on being discontent with the endings this world has to offer.