To Great Things That Never Came

He went to see My Little Pony recently. I suppose that a little boy can enjoy My Little Pony, but a 19-year-old in the theater stands out.

My brother is a joy to our family. He shares jokes he doesn’t know he is telling, sings, laughs, and dances as if no one was watching. Even though we know each other deeply, I have never had the pleasure of having a genuine conversation with him.

For a time, we wondered if he was ever going to speak. He was further along on the autism scale than most, and the disability created a wall around him that has been hard for his mother, father, sister, grandfather, and brother to scale. Like a sun blocked by chemical clouds, we have never fully experienced the full warmth of his spirit. Much has been lost in translation.

On days when I remember that, unless a miracle occurs, he will never marry, never have a career, never drive a car, never live alone, never participate in a Bible study, never hold a sustained conversation with his family, I wonder, where is God?

Our God is in the heavens and he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Is the healing of my brother not pleasing to him? I know that if God were only to speak the word, lame speech would rise, clouds in his mind would part, and the Jericho wall that is autism would come crashing down. Our spirits would finally commune together.

But nineteen years have passed. Although I’ve waited with face pressed against the windowsill, I haven’t seen anything appear upon the gravel road. Spring turned to fall, and fall to winter. Questions came, but the healing has not. The ache turns numb. The persistent widow becomes just a widow. That great thing — my brother’s healing — has not come.

Not Supposed to End This Way

Although we serve an all-powerful, all-good God, some great things never come. Maybe a naked ring finger reminds you of this; you’ve sought the Lord patiently for decades waiting for a spouse that never came. Maybe a new cradle lies in the middle of a freshly painted room, empty. With every new day picking at the wound, how can we begin to hope again?

I was reminded of a way recently as I watched The Return of the King. Pippin and Gandalf sat barricaded in their chamber, as death barraged their door. As the enemy began to break through, Pippin grieved in the way I was lamenting over my brother that week:

“I didn’t think it would end this way.”

Gandalf looked at him curiously, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.”

“What? Gandalf? See what?”

“White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

“Well, that isn’t so bad.”

“No. No, it isn’t.”

Although the orcs were on the doorstep and much remained unrealized, Gandalf had hope because he knew that there was more to the story. He made sense of his fear, horror, disappointment, even death by remembering that there were more pages yet to come. He, unlike Pippin, knew that this was not the end. The difference between a tragedy and a comedy depends not on how it begins, nor on what surprising turn it takes in the middle, but on how the story ends. And Gandalf knew that their story would end with real joy despite all the bad closing in on them.

Despair forgets that there are more pages. It gazes at the brief span of our lives and complains that all should be fulfilled before the page is turned. But hope loves the whole story. Hope breathes, laughs, and draws courage from gazing upon something grander than self. It grows in an epic tale, a tale with joys that cannot be abridged within one hundred years on earth. What we, like Pippin, mistake as the end, is merely leaving the preface for the first chapter.

They Sought the Next Pages

This literate hope that delights in the story is not a psychological crutch or wishful thinking. It is waiting for reality, a reality as tangible as a baby born in Bethlehem and as sure as the empty tomb. It is the conviction of things unseen that we call “faith” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith believes God when he says there is so much more than what we currently see.

Those who went before us believed like this — even when their pages ended with a perilous last sentence:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35–38)

Although their lives seemed to end in disappointment, they staked their souls on the fact that there was more to the story:

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13–16)

They were promised, but did not receive; sat at the window, and only saw bits and pieces of gravel on the road. But they took heart, trusting God with wandering lives, unrealized guarantees, and painful deaths — and they entered into the next chapters that God prepared for them.

Greater Things Will Surely Come

In this life, we join them. We wait and die mid-story. But soon and very soon, the grey curtain of the world will roll back, and we will see him. We wait for the greatest thing that will surely come: our blessed hope, the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). And with his coming, he will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death, crying, and pain will be banished forever (Revelation 21:3–4).

The story is incomplete, but disappointment, autism, and heartbreak only last for a page or two. The healing may not come in this life, but the healer does. The spouse may never come around the corner, but our heavenly spouse is mounting his chariot. The tears will not bring your loved one back, but the Resurrection and the Life is coming. There is more to the story.

As we sense the Spirit of God himself inside us groaning, urging us, we keep our faces pressed against the windowsill. Jesus will appear on the gravel road, and when he does, our lives that feel over now will freshly begin. The greatest things are sure to come, because he is sure to come.