Unexpected Endings: Eucatastrophic Consolations in Literature and Theology
Christian faith typically begins at the end. It has its provenance in, draws its vital energy from and patterns its living towards an ultimate future divinely promised and imaginatively apprehended. Christian faith, we might say, is irreducibly hopeful, and Christian theology irreducibly eschatological. These are terms carefully chosen, and they need to be equally carefully defined: faith is hopeful, not optimistic; and eschatology is not teleology except in a very peculiar sense. For there is, in the distinctively Christian patterning of our end, a ‘catastrophe’ to be reckoned with – an overturning of the cosmic furniture, a subversion of all reasonable expectations, a sudden interruption of the wider order or system of things to which we have become used, and a contradiction of many of its capacities and incapacities. The hope in which faith is invested is, we might say, finally and decisively a transcendent rather than an immanent hope. Its constraints lie not with the ‘real possibles’ nor even the ‘not-yet-possibles’ of history,2 but only with what is possible for the God in whose hands alone our end, as our beginning, rests, and whose hallmark is the gift of life – life called forth not just out of some imagined murky primeval ‘nothing’, but out of the altogether more concrete and familiar darkness and dankness of the tomb which, otherwise, ‘gets us all in the end’. ‘Thanks be to God’, writes Paul, ‘who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’.3 So, to reiterate, the reach of Christian hope is always beyond the thresholds of the most and the best of what, otherwise, the world amounts to and is capable of. Christian hope is always hope invested in a divine ‘other’, and it
cannot be other, therefore, than faith – trust in a promise given and received, and obedient willingness to live and to die by it.