On October 4, 2010

Eucatastrophe

Last year I read the Lord of the Rings for the first time. I had a feeling that I would like the books, but I never wanted to be “that guy.” It kind of seemed like a slippery slope. One minute I’m reading about Frodo, and the next I’m wearing a Star Trek uniform and talking to guy who owns the local Comic book store about the Borg.

I was wrong.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a literary genius. Not only did he create an entire different world, complete with different languages, he also intentionlly created a different word: The Eucatastrophe.

Try to stay with me for a second here, Most “happy ending” stories like this happen using a formula that is called Deus Ex Machina, which means “God from the Machine.” What that basically means is that before the turn of events, there was no real precursor that things might go this way. It is basically a story line written from a perspective that has closed God (or hope) out of it until the last minute, and then when things get dark, allows him in.

In other words, it’s a lot like the world we’ve been pretending to live in.

But this is different than a Eucatastrophe story. A Eucatastrophe is consistent with the story that it’s been telling. These things were always possibilities, however remote, there was always hope bubbling under the surface, waiting for  a moment that it might emerge. Think “Lord of the Rings” with me for a moment. They always knew that if they could destroy the ring, things might work out okay, it just seemed really far-fetched.

And then, at the moment of absolute darkness…there is a turn of events. All the characters, consistent to the end, play out in a unexpected twist, and the ring is destroyed.

Everybody knows what the word Catastrophe means, Tolkien made up a new one. He just added a word in front of it. It was  the Greek word Eu…for good. It means that the potential was already there, but at the moment of complete despair, the best thing that could possibly happen…did.

But what’s interesting is where Tolkien said he got this idea from. He was adamant that this turn of story was straight from the Gospel. Look at what Tolkien actually said: “The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation – This story begins and ends in Joy.

So this last week was rough. I went to two different funerals in two days, and on the day of burying one of the most influential people in my life, I got a call that a co-worker and good friend, had his mitral valve stop working, and that he was in the Hospital in ICU. At one point in last week, I found myself thinking, “Can anything else go wrong?”

Despair is probably the easiest emotion to fall into. The more I live the more I realize how hard hope is to fight for. And how necessary it it to fight for it. But that is the story we live in.We live in a narrative that is headed somewhere. Now that doesn’t mean that things always resolve, or that there is a bow on every drama. But it does mean that there are vestiges of euchastastrophe always around us. Even in the moments that seem hopeless, there are glints of what could be…

Last week, I also had someone come to my office who basically asked, “Does God really love me?” I had a chance to give the previously mentioned Circus tickets to a large family who wouldn’t have had a chance to go otherwise. In other words, I got a chance to be a part of the story God wants to tell.

Because no matter how many funerals I go to, there will be a day when death returns what it owes.

No matter how many friends I visit in the hospital, there will be a day when hospitals will shut down for lack of business.

And that day will be pure joy.

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  • http://therecoveringpharisee.wordpress.com Thomas Paulson

    Everyone feels despair at some point in their life. If you don’t believe me, read Psalm 77. However, you’re right… the story always ends with joy. Even the martyrs below the throne cried out, wondering how bad things were going to get. But what happens at the end? We’re all in Heaven with God. What a great day that will be.

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  • http://dustcoveredtalmid.blogspot.com/ Dan Gill

    Shame on the old Jonathan for not reading a book because of what people might think of him. Kudos to the new Jonathan who is willing to admit that.

    I think you’ll find that Tolkein did not originate the eucatastrophe. I speak of the way of writing, not the term. Others did it before him, and it really comes, as you say, from the original story–the story of God saving the world. There’s a reason stories speak to us. It’s because they reflect portions of the real story.

  • http://www.stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thomas, thanks for the comment. One of the things that stands out to me about the book of Acts, is the underlying Joy that the earliest Christians had in life (and in death). I think you are on to something…There is something extremely powerful about knowing that the world, and it’s rulers answer to someone, and it just happens to be someone who trust to be good.

    Bro. Danny, I have repented, Tolkien is a genius. You’re probably right, I know he invented the term but I’m sure that plenty before him wrote stories like that. It’s interesting you say that about stories that reflect The Story. In researching this term a few months ago, I came across something that Tolkien said that was very similar to that. Hope all is well in Fort Worth!

  • http://dustcoveredtalmid.blogspot.com/ Dan Gill

    Tolkein said that because he was a very perceptive fellow, naturally. Also naturally, I didn’t come to that realization on my own. I owe a lot to Tolkein, Lewis, and to John Eldredge, who put into words something that I’d felt for a long time. Read “Epic,” if you already haven’t.

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