Discern the End
I hate it when someone gives away the end of a movie or TV show. Lauren, on the other hand, rarely watches something without looking ahead to make sure she knows how it is going to end. Even with reality[i] shows like the Bachelor or Bachelorette she follows people on social media who give away the end. In both cases, suspense is the motivating factor. I love suspense and Lauren decidedly does not. There’s no right or wrong position on this, it’s simply preference. It does completely change how you experience a story, though. Some movies are fun to watch a second time for that very reason. The first time I watched ‘Usual Suspects’ and Kevin Spacey’s limp straightened I lost my mind and wanted to rewind[ii] then and there and watch it again.
If two people are watching a movie together for the first time, the person who knows the end can (if they choose) think about the storytelling of a movie more intelligently in real time than the person who doesn’t know the end. If they are trying to make sense of why the creators of the movie made certain choices in regards to the inclusion of certain scenes or even individual lines of dialogue, the person who knows the end has a huge advantage. For example, in a mystery movie one person will be trying to decipher what the red herrings are, while the other is deciding whether they ‘work’ within the structure of the story or if they are just cheap tricks. There is another type of movie watcher, Expert Movie Guy, who watches more intelligently than either of these two whether he knows the end or not, because he knows how movies work. Let’s ignore him.[iii]
Asaph, in Psalm 73, basically says that I should go ahead and read the spoilers of life so that I can live more intelligently. He describes a time where he almost stumbled in his faith. “My steps nearly slipped.” He says he almost stumbled because he was looking at the circumstances of those around him, and comparing them to his own circumstances. His enemies were prosperous and well fed, “…their bodies are fat and sleek.”[iv] He also says they were violent and proud, yet at ease. In other words, they were heedless of God’s law yet worry free and Asaph was trying to be faithful and had all the troubles. It seemed to Asaph the story wasn’t making any sense. Shouldn’t the faithful prosper, and the wicked be resisted by God?
In verse 16 he says “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task.” Trying to decipher what God is doing by looking at our circumstances can be wearisome. If I also then compare my own circumstances with those around me, it almost certainly will be a wearisome task. I may stumble. Asaph almost did. He was envious, and it made him weary “until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” Going into the sanctuary came first. His weariness could either have led him to bitterness or to draw near to his God. His weariness and confusion led him to the sanctuary, and in drawing near to God all of the sudden his perspective changed.
Discerning the end completely changed how he viewed the present circumstances. All the sudden those fat and sleek guys are on slippery roads about to fall to ruin. They are going to be swept away by terrors. Asaph, on the other hand, now sees that God is holding his right hand, guiding him, and will receive him to glory. The same movie is playing, and Asaph sees all the storytelling choices differently because he remembers how it ends. Not because it all makes perfect sense, now. This is the crucial part. It doesn’t make any more sense than it did before but Asaph, because he was resting in the presence of God, is able to see the end and exercise faith that the end would come.
If the end that he sees is really coming, then the trials and sufferings and confusing circumstances aren’t the end. They are temporary, and their meaning is bound in however they relate to the end. Sometimes that will help make sense of circumstances…the storytelling choice will be clarified in light of the end. Sometimes, though, it still won’t make any sense. I’m not sure that should be very surprising.
If someone has to explain to me why a mid-level movie director’s decision to do x instead of y actually made sense in the context of how he was trying to tell a 90 minute story, then just knowing that death and judgment are coming, and even having real peace with it because I am trusting in a good God who loved me and saved me, won’t be enough to allow me to understand why the omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe makes the decisions that He makes. Circumstances will remain troubling and confusing, at times, and I’ll grow weary, and stumble. What I learn from Asaph is that what helped him to keep from falling wasn’t to watch where he stepped; it was to kneel, and then look up.
[iii] Don’t let my sarcastic capitalization fool you, there isn’t anything wrong with these guys. Every field has experts. I only make fun of them because they make me feel dumb, and Transformers is a good movie whether they want to admit it or not.
[iv] As an aside, calling someone fat isn’t usually an envy filled declaration, but when you add ‘sleek’ to it…well that’s different. Asaph’s enemies were fat, but like well-fed-panther type fat.