Heaven and Nature Sing

We like to think of heaven, at least subconsciously, as being “up.”

After all, that’s the direction Jesus went when he ascended into heaven, right? He was “taken up” and his students were left with their mouths hanging open, “gazing up into heaven.”

But that’s not all of the story. In fact, that misses a central plotline in the story.

When Jesus came to earth (down to earth?) it was a miraculous moment because heaven — the vast, unreachable heaven, was colliding with earth. It was a collision which had occurred only a few times ever before, and never lasted long. This time would be different, though: this time, heaven would remain on earth.

Jesus came to institute the kingdom of heaven on earth. That’s the narrative of the good news stories written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He didn’t come to whisk people away to some far off land, or to make us pine for a place we couldn’t yet be.

He taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He taught us that heaven was like yeast, slowly working its way through a batch of dough. He taught us heaven grows on earth like a plant grows from a seed.

In other words, heaven on earth started small, with the birth of a baby boy, and now it continues to grow, to work its way through a weary world. It grows and spreads with every decision we make to bring life instead of death, love instead of hate, peace instead of war.

And it grows and spreads by the power of heaven’s King even while we sleep or do nothing or screw up.

This advent season, look around you. You’ll see lots of pain, brokenness, injustice, and hurt. These are opportunities to grow and spread heaven on earth. And look around you some more. You’ll also see lots of joy, love, peace, and hope. These are evidences of the truth: when Jesus ascended, he left heaven here on earth for us.

If you’re looking for heaven this holiday season, don’t look up — look around you.

The End

For six television seasons, I was in love with LOST. The show had it all: intrigue, mystery, great actors (for the most part), and best of all, intelligent writing. I hung on every word, read websites about theories as to what was going on, felt the elation of piecing something together myself before it was “revealed” on the show — (if it ever was “revealed”, which was part of the show’s brilliance as well).

LOST was probably the best TV drama I’ve ever watched.

The sixth and final season came, and the level of perfection was impossibly raised another notch. I was, more or less, in awe of the writers of LOST. Shelly and I couldn’t wait until Tuesday each week to watch it. But then, something horrible happened.

The ending.

The final 15 minutes of LOST completely undid what the previous six years had built up. The ending ruined the series for me. I’ve explained why in another post here how that happened.

I started reading the Harry Potter series after book 5, Order of the Phoenix, came out. I devoured the first five books, waited some months, and stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning devouring the sixth book. I loved them. Then, something horrible happened again.

The ending.

Once again, a fantastic series of fiction was ruined for me because of the ending. I know a lot of people out there loved The Deathly Hallows, but I just cannot force myself to. For me, the best (and perhaps only?) redeeming piece of narrative it contained was the Snape storyline. Many of you probably don’t care about the specifics of why I didn’t like the ending to Harry Potter, but for those of you who do, click on over to this separate post I wrote.

Then came the Hunger Games trilogy. I was thoroughly entertained while reading these three books, but they definitely were not anything amazing. They told a great story, with decent action and a great plot. The dystopian world that Collins creates was intriguing, but I kept wishing someone else had written the books. Someone like a JRR Tolkien or someone who had a passion for creating backstory, history, and most of all, meaningful dialogue. The books were greatly entertaining and I enjoyed them, but I wouldn’t exactly classify them as great writing.

But then, something happened: the ending.

This time, the ending catapulted my enjoyment and respect for a series skyward. With the ending of the Hunger Games (don’t worry, I won’t give it away if you haven’t read it), suddenly a very simple, straight-forward story quite surprisingly became a rather moving and thought-provoking narrative. I couldn’t help but think about the points the ending raised for days after I put down the final book. For The Hunger Games, the ending made the series a lot better for me.

Anyhow, enough rambling about fiction. The release of the eighth and final Harry Potter movie last week got me thinking about this topic of endings again, and I realized something: endings are extremely important to me. Vital, even. I want to know that whoever was writing the story knew where it was going to end up and has a plan on how to get us there. I want to know that the rest of the story wasn’t just a waste of time. I want to know that all the foreshadowing and clues were thought out in advance.

And most of all, I want to know my emotional investment in the story is not going to be taken for granted.

And then I started wondering: maybe this is why I’ve had such an interest throughout the years in the Ending of The Story — the one that God has written. The narrative of history which he has authored.

I became a Christian back in the late 90s in the midst of the Left Behind craze. Every once in a while, the Church gets on these kicks when we like to focus on what evangelicals call the “End Times” — what is going to happen when Jesus comes back to earth. There was a big focus on this in the 70s, and again in the 90s — and I got totally sucked up into it.

I read Left Behind. I read books on biblical prophecy and how Saddam Hussein was rebuildling Babylon. I compiled spreadsheets and charts based on my reading of the book of Revelation and some passages in Paul’s letters and Jesus’ teachings. In essence, I wanted to know: how does the story end?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that same question, and realizing that I think I had it all wrong. I used to think that God laid out the ending to the story in intricate detail, that it was all one big maze of prophecy, sitting there waiting to be unlocked by someone who could puzzle out its deeper meaning.

Now, I look at the “end” quite differently. Remarkably differently, as a matter of fact.

I don’t think it’s a big puzzle to be deciphered. It’s not some kind of supernatural cosmic riddle to be unraveled.

It is the climax of the narrative. The culmination of the entire story that came before.

To understand the “end”, you have to know the plot that came before it. How much sense would it make for someone to read the last chapter of the Hunger Games without reading anything else in the series? Even if that person were to tease out some pieces of the larger storylines, the ending would still be devoid of the power and meaning it is meant to have. And yet, it seems to me that we like to do this with our myopic focus on the end times.

Knowing what comes in the beginning and the middle makes you look differently at the ending.

Specifically, for me, looking at the story of Scripture as a story of redemption and restoration casts the book of Revelation in an entirely new light. And it brings out what is, to me, the most vital part of the ending: in the end, we don’t join God in heaven. He joins us here on earth.

Because at that time, his creation will be fully restored to what it was intended to be. That’s what the strange sounding prophecies about the end are pointing toward. God created this world. It became something it wasn’t supposed to be. Through the power of sacrificial love, Jesus broke the curse and began the restoration of this world. And God invites us to join him in that work.

In the end, that work (ours and Jesus’) triumphs. And God makes his dwelling here, among us.

No scary scorpion looking battle tanks. No guillotines being trotted out from the Middle Ages. No trying to make the math fit with seventy days or tribulations or moons turning to blood or whatever. No fancy charts with arrows and cross references.

Just a powerful ending to the most incredible story ever written. God wins. His creation becomes what it was meant to be. We become what we were meant to be.

It’s an ending that had been planned from the beginning. It has been thought through… a path toward it sketched out. And in a much greater way than anticipating people getting “666” stamped on their foreheads, it does not take my emotional investment in the story for granted.

There are a whole slew of details on how exactly this plays out with all the various different “end times” passages. But that’s not the point of this blog post — maybe another day. For now, I am embracing the ending of this story gladly – because it does the rest of the narrative perfect justice.

Why I Didn’t Like The Deathly Hallows

I know a lot of people out there loved The Deathly Hallows, but I just cannot force myself to. For me, the best (and perhaps only?) redeeming piece of narrative it contained was the Snape storyline.

Other than that, you have the good guys doing a bunch of aimless, pointless, and quite boring wandering around the woods with no direction or clue of what they are supposed to be doing. Once they do finally figure it out, it deals with a brand new set of magical relics that haven’t ever been mentioned, or alluded to in the previous six books – even though they are the most powerful and most famous relics around.

One of those relics, the Elder Wand, was shrouded in so many inconsistencies and contradictions it didn’t even make sense by the end of the story. The Elder Wand supposedly makes you never lose a duel, but Dumbledore won it from his boyhood friend/competitor by beating him a duel.

And the way the power transfers from owner to owner is convoluted, too. At first, the wand changes ownership when the owner dies. Then it is possible that the wand chooses a new owner when the original owner is just defeated, not killed. Then it becomes just a matter of disarming someone that makes the wand choose a new owner. And then, it turns out that you don’t even have to actually have the Elder Wand to have the power of the Elder Wand! (What a worthless relic after all!) All you have to do is disarm someone who has the Elder Wand, and the power of the Elder Wand transfers into your own Wand! How convenient!

All of this was done to explain away how Harry actually has the power of the elder wand even though he doesn’t actually have the elder wand (confused yet?). Dumbledore had the Elder Wand (which he won in a duel despite the wand never losing a duel) and then Draco disarmed Dumbledore. Even though Dumbledore was not dueling with Draco, and Draco did not take the Elder Wand after he disarmed Dumbledore, somehow the power and authority of the Elder Wand then transferred to Draco’s wand. Huh?!? So when Harry then disarms Draco later on, Harry’s wand ends up with the power and authority of the Elder Wand (which at the time rested in Draco’s non-Elder Wand wand). And so, even though Voldemort steals the actual Elder Wand and thinks himself invincible, the Elder Wand Voldemort has is actually just a piece of junk now. The power of the Elder Wand has been transferred from the Elder Wand into Draco’s regular wand, and then from Draco’s regular wand to Harry’s regular wand. So now Harry has the Elder Wand power, twice removed from the Elder Wand.

And he still doesn’t even use it to defeat Voldemort!

The whole book is like this to me — just a bunch of incredibly weak attempts to explain and tie things together that just don’t make sense. Like Ron being able to speak parseltongue. Things that just seem too… I don’t know. Contrived. Easy. And Harry never even actually defeats Voldemort, either. Voldemort kind of defeats himself, and we end up in some strange purgatory scene before Harry is brought back to life.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough about Harry Potter. Back to the original post before we chase too many rabbit trails!

Why I Didn’t Like The Deathly Hallows

I know a lot of people out there loved The Deathly Hallows, but I just cannot force myself to. For me, the best (and perhaps only?) redeeming piece of narrative it contained was the Snape storyline.

Other than that, you have the good guys doing a bunch of aimless, pointless, and quite boring wandering around the woods with no direction or clue of what they are supposed to be doing. Once they do finally figure it out, it deals with a brand new set of magical relics that haven’t ever been mentioned, or alluded to in the previous six books – even though they are the most powerful and most famous relics around.

One of those relics, the Elder Wand, was shrouded in so many inconsistencies and contradictions it didn’t even make sense by the end of the story. The Elder Wand supposedly makes you never lose a duel, but Dumbledore won it from his boyhood friend/competitor by beating him a duel.

And the way the power transfers from owner to owner is convoluted, too. At first, the wand changes ownership when the owner dies. Then it is possible that the wand chooses a new owner when the original owner is just defeated, not killed. Then it becomes just a matter of disarming someone that makes the wand choose a new owner. And then, it turns out that you don’t even have to actually have the Elder Wand to have the power of the Elder Wand! (What a worthless relic after all!) All you have to do is disarm someone who has the Elder Wand, and the power of the Elder Wand transfers into your own Wand! How convenient!

All of this was done to explain away how Harry actually has the power of the elder wand even though he doesn’t actually have the elder wand (confused yet?). Dumbledore had the Elder Wand (which he won in a duel despite the wand never losing a duel) and then Draco disarmed Dumbledore. Even though Dumbledore was not dueling with Draco, and Draco did not take the Elder Wand after he disarmed Dumbledore, somehow the power and authority of the Elder Wand then transferred to Draco’s wand. Huh?!? So when Harry then disarms Draco later on, Harry’s wand ends up with the power and authority of the Elder Wand (which at the time rested in Draco’s non-Elder Wand wand). And so, even though Voldemort steals the actual Elder Wand and thinks himself invincible, the Elder Wand Voldemort has is actually just a piece of junk now. The power of the Elder Wand has been transferred from the Elder Wand into Draco’s regular wand, and then from Draco’s regular wand to Harry’s regular wand. So now Harry has the Elder Wand power, twice removed from the Elder Wand.

And he still doesn’t even use it to defeat Voldemort!

The whole book is like this to me — just a bunch of incredibly weak attempts to explain and tie things together that just don’t make sense. Like Ron being able to speak parseltongue. Things that just seem too… I don’t know. Contrived. Easy. And Harry never even actually defeats Voldemort, either. Voldemort kind of defeats himself, and we end up in some strange purgatory scene before Harry is brought back to life.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough about Harry Potter. Back to the original post before we chase too many rabbit trails!