The End of the Story
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with mankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, crying or pain, for the old order has passed away.
And the one who sat on the throne said, “Behold I make all things new.”
Revelation 21: 3–5
It is always tempting to think of the Bible as a novel, a story with a beginning a middle and an end, with a turning point or peripety somewhere in the middle. And this is almost but not quite true. The first words are: “In the beginning God created” and the last words, other than the blessing, are “Come, Lord Jesus.” It has often been pointed out that the story begins in a garden, its peripety or moment of unexpected, fulfilling grace, takes place in a garden, and at the end believers are welcomed to the new city, a walled garden in which there is no more pain, death, or darkness, in which Jesus wipes the tears from faithful eyes.
Another pattern that makes the Bible novel-like is God’s work of restoration, from the first day of creation when the Holy Spirit hovered over dark and formless chaos to bring light, form, and fullness, through the cleansing of a world from which righteousness had fled with the great flood, the gift of stability to nature, the giving of moral form at Sinai, and the prophetic promise of the renewed heart and the fulfillment of that promise at Pentecost, all moments which look forward to Christ’s return in glory and the gathering of the elect from the four corners of the earth.
Still another, perhaps more fundamental pattern discernible in Sacred Scripture can be discerned by reading the text as an expression of the will of the Creator as it is known from His very character. To the question why is there anything, anything at all, the answer must be that God reveals Himself in love and that it is the character of love to overflow superabundantly into being, into the existence of a world of stars and planets, nature, plants, animals and mankind. And if one goes further, asking why God should not be content with the loveliness of nature and of the animals, why He should make a creature so troublesome as man, the answer must be that He intended that when He called to the world He had made, that world would, through Adam its crown, in freedom answer back. God planted a garden; He walked in it; He called Adam and Eve by name. But we hid ourselves from Him. We know that in that moment God’s desire was frustrated by the creatures to whom He had given freedom, who chose from pride to believe the single emissary of the chaos, the serpent whom God had permitted to survive His great remaking. But we also know that God’s will to know His creatures is indefeasible, although rendered painfully timefull by the necessity that the creatures who had rebelled should allow themselves to have better wills, a healing that was a work of time, accomplished finally only when He sent His Son to repair the honor due Him, to exemplify His love on the cross, and to purchase His renewing Spirit which enabled the sons of Adam at last to answer when the Creator calls: “Speak, I am listening.”
In that way the unifying theme of the Bible is the story of God’s desire to know us. It is a principle of theology that the Eternal Majesty, who does not have but is every perfection, needs nothing. It was the work of the great Dionysius to write that while God does not need us, He still yearns to know us. And it is a fact central to the story that He longs to know us as He knows the Eternal Son who is in the beginning, whose incarnation has existed in the mind of the Father eternally, in whose image He made us, and to whom He will finally join us in the Church which is the very body of the Son.
The Second Reading, from the revelation given the Prophet John, shows us the end of the story that began when God walked in the garden and called our name. Then we did not answer. After sin we could not answer. But by the gift that is Christ in whom we live, whose mind we may have, we at last can answer the voice that calls us, in the words of the great Ignatius; “water living and speaking,” calling us from the moment of our baptism, “saying within me ‘Come to the Father’” (To the Romans 7).
The last two chapters of the Apocalypse are God’s revealed warrant that life is neither a cruel joke or a meaningless tale, that the face and the voice that we see and hear distantly from the moment of our birth, speaking with clarity and patient persistence in our souls when we are born again in the waters of baptism, is the voice of the Son of God, that He will dwell with us in the garden illuminated by the light of the Lamb. Death, mourning, crying and pain are the fruits of rebellion that afflict the old groaning and travailing order. The power of that old order is weakened with the birth of Christ; when He returns it is at an end.
The word ‘end’ in our language means both the Latin finis and the Greek telos, both the end or conclusion and the perfection. We and the cosmos are moving neither toward some sociologically defined political perfection, a hell of perfect equality and perfect meaninglessness, nor toward some cosmic destruction, but toward the consummation of the conversation the Lord intended in that first garden. Job spoke for all mankind when he mused that he would wait in hope all his days if after this life God should call and he should answer. “Thou wouldst long for the work of thy hands…. And though wouldst cover over my iniquity” (14:9, 11). And now by the gift He gives, we can answer.
“And He who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”