Happily Ever After

I don’t enjoy movies with sad endings. In fact, the only thing worse than a movie with a sad ending is one with an unresolved ending. Seriously. For me, it feels like two hours wasted. Why sit in a comfy theater watching someone else’s life story—especially when it isn’t going to end favorably—when I could be out in the real world writing my own?

But Jeff, “We‘re exhausted with movies that resolve. They’re just not realistic.” OK, friend. Tell me, which part your favorite movie is actually realistic? The part where the actors use fake tears, rubber weapons, and ketchup for blood? The part where most of what we see is actually camera tricks and digital effects? Or the part where smart writers put clever lines into the mouths of beautiful models?

Why watch a movie with an unresolved ending when we already have so many sad and unresolved endings in real life? To me, movies are about fantasy—about feel good and hope—about inspiration!

I digress.

Point is, God is not like those unresolved, agonizingly sad, dreadful-ending movies. Nor is he like their writers. Thankfully! He relishes a blissful consummation. A fantastic finale. A glorious resolution. He is the God of the happily ever after!

“In his kindness, God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus, so after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

No doubt, I’d prefer we never suffer at all, but it comforts me to know that it will finally all come to an end. For good.

One way to gain greater understanding into how God prefers his endings is to note in scripture his promised rewards to those who love him and follows his ways.

“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

“I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:14

Take courage my friends. God revels in happy endings!

Take the story of Joseph. It’s a classic, right? But it’s not just a story about Joseph. It’s also about you and me. When God puts a story in the Bible, he does so more than just to give us a little entertainment. He is revealing his tendencies. Unveiling his preferences. And giving us a glimpse of the way he plans for life’s chapters to come to a close.

Why else would Paul write something like, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for the.” It’s just who God is. He embodies goodness, and he loves turning what the devil means for evil into good—to the wonderment of everyone involved.

Joseph’s story starts out selfishly good—with dreams of Joseph acquiring strengthen, dominion, and power over his malicious brothers. But it turns sour real quick. And it stays that way for years. And years. Thirteen to be exact.

He goes from living the high life with a wealthy father who prizes him over his other eleven brothers, to being thrown in a pit—to being a slave. After a temporary reprieve—where he temporarily moves up in his ranking as a slave—he gets thrown in prison for a sexual crime he did not commit. Then, after years of being forgotten in prison, Joseph is finally released and brought into a new beginning—the start of all God has for him. He is restored. He is put in a place of blessing and influence. He is reconciled to his brothers. He is reunited with his father. He is, in every sense of the word, the hero.

Thing is, if you had asked Joe somewhere in the middle of year twelve how life was treating him, you might have found him to be distraught. Clearly, he wasn’t privy to the information we have. When the pain is supposed to end.

We have the luxury of skipping ahead a couple pages right to the happily ever after. Unlike Joe. Unlike in our own story. No doubt, from Joe’s perspective, he wasn’t entirely sure if those God-given dreams were ever going to come to pass. It might be tomorrow, or it could require another 29 years of prison. Or, worse, the original dream could have been the result of a bad pot of matzoh ball soup!

But God knew. And he knew he was leading his son toward a bountiful season. A season of blessing and prosperity, following a season—a very long season—of testing.

If you’re like me, you love to root for the underdog. I don’t watch a lot of sports, but when I do, I’m always rooting for the underdog—unless the Denver Broncos are playing, of course. There’s just something about it. Something inside us that wants the little guy to win. Maybe it’s because we can all relate to being the little guy more often than not. Some of the best stories are about a ridiculous underdog overcoming all odds to beat the obvious, most-likely-to-succeed front runner. We cheer. We clap. We love it! (Think, Rocky, Rudy, The Shawshank Redemption, Remember The Titans, Hoosiers, The Karate Kid, or Sea Biscuit.)

In the same way, from what we read in scripture, it appears our Creator has a similar affinity for the least-likelies. God places special emphasis on touching the down and out, the poor, the lost, and the disenfranchised. And he even reminds us that repentant prostitutes and corrupt tax collectors will gain access to the Kingdom ahead of many religious leaders. See Matthew 21:31-32

What about Israel? Their story as a whole is much the same as Joseph’s in that things started out good with Abraham. But, when they rebelled years later, things turned ugly. God’s hand of protection was lifted. And they went from horrifying attack to utter defeat, from captivity to slaughter, from oppression to slavery. Over many, many years.

All the while, God, in his mercy, never abandoned them completely, and even gave them hope of a beautiful land he would give them. A land of promise. A land of plenty. A land where everything would be good again. The Promised Land. This was to be Israel’s destiny—God’s heart for his people—where they would finally arrive in a habitation of peace. A place of joy. A place where they were fully reunited with their God—once and for all. The place of real happily ever afters.

Then there’s Jesus. Many wonder how he stayed passive through the grisly beatings and gruesome suffering of the cross. Well, aside from the fact that he was God, Hebrews lets us in on one of the foremost reasons. It reads, “He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward.” Hebrews 12:2a

Jesus too was eyeing a heavenly reward. A heavenly honor. A happily ever after. A place where his joy-filled inheritance would make all the pain he endured worth it—an inheritance that would consist of none other than us, his creation. His people. Called by his name.

“But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death.” Isaiah 53:10-12

One of the sweetest happy endings in the Bible involves the story of Job. You know it. Job’s life was ruined by many attacks from the devil—at God’s allowance. All of his worldly possessions—and they were many—were ripped away. His children were violently killed, and his health was utterly ravaged as he lay there scraping the hideous boils that formed over all his body.

His friends and his wife spoke horrible things to him, and it seemed the favor of God had forever disappeared from his life.

Then, after a remarkable—and terrifying—encounter with God himself, Job is completely restored. (See Job 42) He is given seven sons and three more daughters—in fact, the most beautiful in all the land. His fortunes—and they were many—were all returned. Even his friends came baring gifts for a great celebration. And he lived 140 years after this—long enough to see four generations of his children and grandchildren. All in all, the Bible reports that Job was even more blessed in the second half of his life than he was in the first.

Why? Because God loves his people, and he has restoration in his sights for us all. He has plans for good and not for harm, to give us a hope and a future, to provide happy endings for all those who trust in him and persevere to the end.

Of course, when we speak of happy endings, there is certainly none greater than the promise of heaven.

“I hear a loud should from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death of sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:3-4

Clearly, this is something astonishing to look forward to!

No more death? No more sorrow? No more crying? No more pain?

A place where God, himself—in tangible form—will live with us?

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

As I present this concept, it would be cavalier not to state the obvious. Though God—according to his Word—does certainly cause all things to work together for good, his timing is not always apparent or even agreeable to us. Proverbs 11:31 clearly states that the righteous are rewarded while on the earth, yet we still recognize that the ultimate victory over this world will not come until Jesus returns for his bride.

While many do receive blessings on this earth—often following periods of great turmoil—many others do not. And it must be stated that just because a person does not experience a happy ending in this life does not mean they lack the favor of God. (Think Paul, Stephen, and all of the apostles. Polycarp, Patrick Hamilton, William Tyndale, and many, many other martyrs throughout history.) The bible even declares God’s martyrs blessed above others in eternity. See Revelation 20:4-6.

The most central passage on earthly blessings vs. heavenly blessings is quite possibly Hebrews 11:32-40.

32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.

39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.

None of these—those who were victorious in this life nor those who were not—received all that God had promised for them in this life. Why? I don’t know entirely. But it is certainly in part because there is even more blessing in heaven than we can possibly fathom. There is a happy ending, a twist of fates, a pure joy awaiting that is so great that we will not even be able to contain it.

“That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heart, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.’” 1 Corinthians 2:9

So, don’t give up. Don’t stop believing. Hold fast. Stand true. God will have his way, and in the end, as the last scene plays out—just before the credits roll—evil will be vanquished and God’s true people will come together to live with him in peace and gladness for all of eternity. A very fine happily ever after, indeed.

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