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EUCATASTROPHE

EUCATASTROPHE

j-r-r-tolkienLikewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.
Romans 8:26-28

Like most people I am deeply troubled as I watch news of our world on fire. I see Christians in Iraq facing literal crucifixion, starvation, and persecution. My heart breaks for the human tragedy all along our own southern border. I am anguished by the rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world.

This past week in pondering the troubles of our world, along with the troubles of friends, I was steeled by the thought of “eucatastrophe”. That’s not a misspelling, but a word coined by J. R. R. Tolkien, Oxford scholar, and author of “The Hobbit”, and “The Lord of the Rings”. In a letter to his son Tolkien explained eucatastrophe as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears”. He likened eucatastrophe to the snapping back into place of a limb that has long been out of joint. Tolkien understood the Gospel story to be a eucatastrophe, and he wrote “The Lord of the Rings” as an illustration of God’s eucatastrophe. Out of great sorrow and loss come tears of joy!

The Apostle Paul’s grand eighth chapter of Romans is God’s eucatastrophe. Here is great sorrow and pain being worked together for eternal good. Paul writes of “the sufferings of the present time” (8:18); “the creation subjected to futility” (8:20); “bondage to decay” (8:21); and “the whole creation groaning” (8:22). Then, Paul reveals the happy, unexpected turn as “all things work together for good”!

Many Bible scholars speak of Romans 8 as the Mount Everest of Scripture affording us a glimpse of the pinnacle of revelation. I like to simplify this section of Romans 8 as telling us about something we do not know, and something we do know.

First, what we do not know: “we do not know how to pray as we ought”. Notice that the Apostle Paul, the great pray-er of the New Testament church, includes himself among those not knowing how to pray as we ought.

I do not know how to pray as I ought, because I cannot foresee the future, the next year, or even the next hour. Nor do I always know what is best for me, or those I love. I will always be a stumbling beginner at prayer. But, Paul reveals that as we pray the Holy Spirit helps us by interceding for us. He takes our feeble attempts to pray and presents them to the Father according to the will of God. He doesn’t pray instead of us praying, but He prays for us as we pray. That prompts me to want to pray more and with greater confidence.

Second, while we do not know how to pray as we ought, here is something we do know: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”. This is not something that we feel or we hope, but something that we know. God is working “all things” that happen to us for His purpose: that we be “conformed to the image of his Son”. That means that “all things”, not most things, but “all things” are being worked towards a purpose in our lives; that we share in the very life and glory of God’s beloved Son Jesus. We are being made into a “large family” that loves the Father. This will be a eucatastrophe, “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears”.

Grace and peace,
Tim

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