I believe that a story is only as good as its conclusion. The more finality and resolution that occurs in a story, the better.
Some may push back and say that they have seen plenty of great movies or they have read plenty of fantastic books where there is some sort of open ending. But notice that I never said the conclusion needs to lead to overt or stated finality. For instance, in the movie “I Am Legend,” a movie most would say is pretty good, we see some protagonists at the end of the story arrive outside the gates of what we assume is a friendly safe haven. While the movie never tells us that our protagonists are safe, that the community is good, or that humanity overcomes the plague they are facing, the way the ending is presented sets up an implied conclusion that contains a great deal of finality.
A story is really never over. There is always more to tell. In that sense, every story that has ever been written is open-ended. But what about stories lived out? What about our stories – our lives? We would love to think of ours as the stories that end in perfection – stories with finality and resolution. The modern day eulogy is a “good word” given to summarize the story of the deceased. It’s an attempt to convey the great story of the one lying in front of those gathered to pay their respects. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the deceased’s life is all too evident for those in the crowd. The conclusion is death. The story is ruined from the start. While there is great finality, there is no conquering of the greatest enemy. There is no resolution.
But even if we turn a funeral into a celebration of legacy that remains rather than memories that have been made, many will still find themselves running into hopelessness if they are to think at all. The ultimate legacy of all deceased is the same – the scattering of their particles into a barren universe as it undergoes heat death. Hitler’s ultimate legacy will be no different than Ghandi’s - or than yours and mine. We are all destined to leave our same mark on the universe. Our legacies may last longer than others who follow us, but that is only a statement of temporal position, not any addition of value. Come the last generation of humans alive, I can’t see how they’d find much meaning in such apparently pointless things as memory, legacy, honor, and so forth. Whether one has been remembered for one generation or a million, come the last generation alive, all will be forgotten. In the end, the notion of legacy is simply a contrivance fashioned and maintained by the living to provide a false sense of meaning and purpose so they can face their eventual demise. This fabrication - this fiction - makes life livable.
As I pondered all of this in the wake of my grandfather’s recent death, it struck me how different a Christian funeral should be. While we will certainly eulogize my grandfather and celebrate his life, we do not do so in willful ignorance of the future and temporally fleeting fictions, like those without an ultimate hope of the future. We do it in hope of a promise given to us through relationship, by God, and attested to by the scriptures, the church, and the resurrection.
My grandfather has left a true legacy. He is a Christian man who built a Christian home. He has a legacy that extends now all the way down into the lives of three great grandchildren. His legacy extends into me. I have had the blessing of being brought up under the gospel in part because of his legacy, and my family is now taking that good news to share with others across the world. And this good news is that death is not the conclusion of life, nor the end of the world the end of our legacies. What my grandfather built will endure through time and into eternity, just as his soul does.
The world celebrates the life that has been lived and mourns the finality of death. There is great finality to all of our stories, but no resolution in death. Ironically, Christianity flips this on its head. The death that we mourn is not the conclusion. Rather, death was the climax of all history, as God himself used it as a tool to conquer our enemies and free us from bondage to sin. And life, it is the conclusion. The finality of the Christian life is the destruction of death, the subduing of sin and evil, and true, fulfilled, everlasting life. There is no more story beyond true life, for there is no tension in need of resolution.
This redemption and hope that we have is magnificent. It is not a cleverly devised risk undertaken by a finite god, but rather a purposed conclusion crafted from before the foundation of the world. There is great finality in the once for all sacrifice of Christ for our reconciliation, and there is great resolution in the restoration of the world – nature, self, and human relationships - to the way it all should be. My grandfather’s story is objectively the best story ever told. It is the real never-ending story, and the only one that can truly conclude with “happily ever after.” It is an ending that isn't really an ending, but a beginning. We pray that you will seek to make this your story as well and would love to discuss the reasons and evidence for the hope that we have.