My nearly three-year old daughter has a beautifully illustrated version of the Lord’s Prayer that we read almost every night. She piously folds her little hands and says the words along with us, slowing coming to understand each phrase. She knows that “thy kingdom come” is a prayer filled with the same sort of expectation and joy that little children feel when their mothers and fathers come home. And she knows that “give us this day our daily bread” has something to do with God giving us food, just as she feeds the geese along the river bank. But every night she makes the same fabulous mistake with the last line. As we end with the doxology (almost certainly added by some pious monk in the early years of textual transmission) she prays with great confidence:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the story forever. Amen.
For thine is the story….one of the most comforting claims of Christian faith is that the story of human history is God’s story. As a story, it has ups and downs, great heroes and villains, great tragedy, surprising comedy, and an end when the great narrative will be resolved and come to rest. While there may be many more wonderful stories after that point, it is in the very nature of stories to come to an end. As much as I love a good book, film or television show (and as frustrated as I can be when a good show comes to an end), it is in the ending of a narrative that the meaning and purpose of a story becomes clear and fully realized. After all, how can one confidently declare what a book is about without first finishing the book? When the story is over, only then can readers and viewers reflect back on the narrative, and see why each character and plot twist had to be included in the story. Only when the story is over can we understand why each and every detail—each and every person—mattered.
One of the great hopes of the Christian faith comes, then, in the confidence that we know how the story will end. This is not to say we have read the last chapter, but the Christian faith does claim to know the final paragraph, the final vision of God’s good kingdom coming in its fullness, completely re-establishing justice and peace on a renewed earth. From this ending, the meaning of the story begins to become clear: grace.
How exactly we get there is only vaguely sketched out. In fact, the Anglican theologian N.T. Wright describes human history as sort of newly-discovered Shakespeare play in which the first four acts are extant but the fifth act is missing, except for the final scene. We live our lives in those missing scenes of the fifth act, not quite clear how our roles fit into the wider narrative. We are able to get a sense of what suits the story from the exploits and adventures of the previous acts and, from that final scene, we can see the end toward which we are headed. If we live well, we are true to the master plot of grace, of redemption. When we are not true to this theme, our lives are hollow, our performances upon the world’s stage unconvincing.
Regardless of the quality of each performance, the plethora of villains and host of heroes, the ending stands written and will not change. And it is this ending which assures us that wrongs will be right, sorrow will be no more, and God (who is good, steadfast in his love and abounding in mercy) will be victorious. To claim any more knowledge than this would be foolish but, knowing this last paragraph, we can confidently proclaim that the overarching theme is grace, every individual life matters, and that all shall be well.
And so, perhaps we should all start praying my daughter’s doxology, taking comfort in the God who weaves each of our stories—with their darkness, brokenness, and disappointments—into his great story of final justice, of final forgiveness, of final redemption: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the story forever. Amen.”