The Yes, But Not Yet-ness of Life

13 February 2012 No Comment

I have in recent months been surrounded by people who have good reason to want to know what is going to happen to them and to those they care about—involving health, life and death, jobs, relationships, eternal fate, and so on. This is one (among many) of the story elements in our lives. Our lives unfold to us like a story (because they are a story) and, as when reading or hearing a story, we want to know how things are going to turn out.

There is a ‘page turner’ quality to a good life as well as to a good novel. Our natural curiosity, as well as our sense of self-preservation, wants an answer for “what’s next?” And when that desire gets the better of us, we get anxious, feeling we really need to know, now, the answer to that question. When reading a novel, we can flip to the back of the book, but we can’t do that in our life story. It must be lived each day, even as, for those who do not cheat, a novel must be read page by page and chapter by chapter.

We sometimes think God is teasing us. He knows. He could tell us. He could give us clues. Better yet, he could make happen now the things we want to happen. It may seem a little cruel that he doesn’t.

I’m expecting myself to say at this point that it is better that God doesn’t. And I am expecting myself to come up with an example in which God not telling someone what was next actually worked out much better than the person could ever have imagined. But although I believe this is true and that examples abound, I’m going make another point instead.

The slow unfolding of meaning and significance over the length of a life is a source both of pain and of joy—and for the same reason. Our fallen finitude means that our curiosities, our hungers, our desires, our hopes and needs are never completely fulfilled. As people of faith, we are creatures of the “yes, but not yet,” the “glimpsed, but not fully seen,” the “promised, but not realized,” the “genuine, but transient,” the“once and future king.” Therefore pain. But therefore also joy—the joy of the promised yes and the glimpse, here and there, of its reality.

Tolkien says this ‘joy’ is found in all faery stories and a key to both their attractiveness and their realism. More on that (and eucatastrophe) later.

Daniel Taylor

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