BY: MICAELA WALKER
I’ve heard it said that comedy is simply tragedy with an extra scene. It’s an intriguing concept that what distinguishes a happy ending from a sorrowful demise is often only one final scene. So what if we extend the metaphor? Human existence is plagued by unavoidable pain. Few of us feel we have a truly meaningful purpose for living. Our happiest moments are fleeting.
It all sounds rather tragic.
But what if we allow God to write an extra scene? The Bible is a book full of stories in which God writes a final scene and beauty arises from pain. And the scenes God writes are pretty unbelievable. Wicked sons are welcomed home with feasts, prostitutes become prophet’s wives, and Christ’s murderers inherit the kingdom of heaven. It all sounds pretty unbelievable and maybe even comical. It’s in these moments, though, that God’s character is made most evident. Because he saves us through our tragedy.
But is our existence really so bad that we need an extra scene? There are so many things that make life worth living—the chocolate croissants from Free Speech Movement (mmm), Mumford & Sons music, Cal games in the student section, golden sunsets over the Bay. But I’m afraid that if we measure these somewhat fleeting pleasures with the inevitability of death and the preponderance of suffering it becomes hard to justify living for these things alone.
I recently started reading the “Death and Dying” section of the New York Times opinion page (Warning: don’t do this while in public—you will break into tears, people will give you uncomfortable and sympathetic glances) and it’s interesting that in a paper famous for its diverse viewpoints there’s a rare symmetry to the opinion section (even among commenters, which is incredibly rare in our argument-driven internet culture) when people talk about death. The articles often present similar themes: we don’t ponder death until it gradually starts creeping up on us, along with aging come ailments and loss of independence, the fear of death is debilitating; then you die. And for those authors who reflect upon being left behind there is the universally strange experience that the living, laughing, breathing someone they loved has abruptly stopped existing. We all agree that the whole process really sucks. Even though it’s the most natural of processes and happens to everyone, there’s a consensus that it actually feels like the most un-natural thing in the world. In this modern age we’re supposed to have resigned ourselves to the processes of living and dying, “all are from the dust, and to dust all return,” so why is the Circle of Life so intuitively uncomfortable for us?
Intuitions do not equal fact statements, though, so maybe it is natural that we exist, persist and are extinguished. In which case we should probably spend the precious short amount of time we have doing meaningful things. Unfortunately this is easier said (and sung about) than done. The things we consider the highest pleasures sound hollow when they are measured against death. Reading Dostoevsky and going to the symphony aren’t activities we can build our lives around. The wise author of Ecclesiastes understood that even our intellectual pursuits are ultimately fruitless, “For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” and in the end “for the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance.” If we dedicate ourselves to developing a 401k, crafting the perfect skin-care routine and curating an immaculate wardrobe, or even trying to sculpt perfect children, what will any of it be worth in the end? Our most noble selfless pursuits like volunteering and helping others through sacrificial service won’t last past maybe one generation after we’re gone. The wise as well as the fool, the rich as well as the poor, the kind as well as the cruel will die all the same!
So, if death is inescapable and life is meaningless, why not just YOLO it up? Well, after indulging in quite a bit of hedonism of his own (“whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure”) the author of Ecclesiastes* concluded that it was all vanity and a striving after the wind. But he also discovered that “whatever God does endures forever.” So if God did create the universe and also created each of us, it means we have a link to eternity. But if God is out there, mightn’t he be angry at how we humans have wrecked a lot of His creation? We’ve pillaged and plundered the earth’s resources, we’ve cheated, abused, and hated one another and in so doing He’s probably pretty offended.
The Bible tells us that, in fact, he’s heartbroken. Because our sins haven’t just hurt one another, they’ve hurt Him. In the book of Hosea, God compares our rebellion from Him to an adulterous wife who whores herself out to other lovers for sustenance all the while forgetting her husband loves her and has provided for her all along. In the parable of the prodigal son he says that we’re like a child who has taken an early inheritance from his father, gone to a foreign land and squandered it in reckless living. He’s heartbroken and angry because His beloved have decided to go their own way instead of remaining faithful to Him. What he should do is divorce us, disown us, forget us. That would be tragic but what we deserve.
Instead, he writes us an extra scene.
When the whoring wife turned back to her husband he betrothed her to himself forever. When the prodigal son humbly went back to his father begging for mercy, he was greeted with compassion—a hug, a kiss, and a feast. And the Christ-killers, well, they’re us. Our extra scene has already been written. About 2,000 years ago God did something unfathomable for us. He put down His power and glory and became a human. Our very awesome Creator entered human history in order to reach us. Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God and through his substitutionary death, he received the punishment we rightly deserved for our sin and we received His righteousness that we never could have gotten ourselves. Why did He do it? Why would He write an extra scene? Because He loves us. It’s mysterious because if you look deep enough inside yourself you’ll see that there isn’t much of anything lovable about who you are. But God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still nasty, messed-up, broken sinners He wrote the extra scene.
Now what He asks of us is that we believe in Him and hand over our tragedy in favor of his divine authorship. Because when we believe in Jesus, the link to our Heavenly Father is restored and he promises us eternal life. Instead of mourning our tragedy we can live joyfully, as sinners forgiven and saved.
 Although, this may have only been my high school English teacher misquoting the great comedian Steve Allen, there’s quite a lengthy discussion on the origins of this quote at: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/06/25/comedy-plus/
 If the author of Ecclesiastes was, as most believe, King Solomon, then he indulged in quite a bit of pleasure, like, 200 wives worth of pleasure.