“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Eucatastrophe

J. R. R. Tolkien coined the term “eucatastrophe,” meaning a good catastrophe or happy ending, and he describes the idea in his essay “On Fairy-stories”:

“[T]he “consolation” of fairy-tales has another aspect than the imaginative satisfaction of ancient desires. Far more important is the Consolation of the Happy Ending. Almost I would venture to assert that all complete fairy-stories must have it…I will call it Eucatastrophe. The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function. The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending, or more correctly of the good catastrophe, of the sudden joyous “turn” does not deny the existence of dycatastrophe, of sorrow and failure; the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will), universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief…In such stories when the sudden “turn” comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-stories”
The eucatastrophe is the triumph of light over darkness, life over death, freedom over bondage, beauty over ugliness, majesty over horror, love over hate, hope over despair, joy over suffering, good over evil. It is the sudden and final overturning of what appears to be the triumph of the great evil (indeed, as Tolkien writes, there may be “much evidence” that universal final defeat is at hand), into the absolute victory of the still greater good. Miraculous and mysterious, enormous and epic, sudden and sweeping, ultimately encompassing all reality, it is the great, climactic turning point in the Great Story. It is the real, true “Happy Ending.” It is the passing “through darkness and fire to a new day” (Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings), a “miraculous grace,” the great turn of the tide towards the great final Joy.

What Tolkien describes here is the kind of epic event one might look for in history if one expects that good will ultimately triumph over evil, as we do. And indeed, we find just such an event in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! The eucatastrophic nature of this event, and the astonishing beauty and grandeur of what it accomplishes in God’s Story, will become clear as we take a deeper look at the victory of God in Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Great Eucatastrophe of God’s Story and the victory of God over all that is not of God.

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