This past week I had the luxury of spending a day at a seminary library. This for me is like a shoe-lover spending the day at a shoe factory outlet; or an outdoor-devotee being assigned to shop all day in Bass Pro-Shop. I did have a particular study subject in mind for the day, but, as you might imagine, being surrounded by thousands of books, I had to do a little hunting. I pulled down volumes ancient and new, reading snippets and looking for gems worth noting. One such gem came from a book called Confessing the Faith (D.J. Hall 1996 p.29). “I simply do not believe in the inevitability of progress. I consider such a belief not only non-Christian but an alternative to Christianity.” The footnote attached to this quote cites back to Kurt Vonnegut reflecting on a college library: “This library is full of stories of supposed triumphs, which makes me very suspicious of it.…It’s misleading for people to read about great successes, since even for middle-class and upper-class white people…failure is the norm. It is unfair to youngsters particularly to leave them wholly unprepared for monster screwups and starring roles in Keystone Kop comedies and much, much worse.” (Hocus Pocus, 1990, p. 33)
The discovery of these quotes was juxtaposed to my earlier viewing of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I enjoyed the movie, but the point of the original book, that all children, even those in Australia, have very bad days, gets lost in the movie version. The plot turns on Alexander making a wish that his entire family would suffer one of his very bad days and the “wish” comes true. While the plot change makes for a funny movie, it loses what I think is the redeeming part of the original story: “hey, kids, life is not fair or fun every day.” I suppose children eventually learn that on their own, but the message is important enough to tell them it early and often.
That’s what I learned this week: we all get to star in the tragic comedies of life at some point. In fact, things don’t always get “better.” That’s the wrong word, though. Things don’t always “progress” as our human hearts desire. All things, even our lives, come to an end. Which is why we need to tell the children the companion truth: “Yet…God is a God who is committed in love to the good end and consummation of creation.” (Hall, p. 29) God makes promises which are unconditional and non-revocable. We should tell the children that too: God sends a boat to save us in the storm. The essence of our faith is not that bad days don’t happen; but that when they happen Jesus is the one at our bedside promising us a better beginning tomorrow. The movie we star in today may look like a tragedy, but the movie of your life has a sequel with a cast of thousands and that movie never, ever ends. You are one of the stars. I promise. No, God promises. Tell the children that.