Is it possible that the worst thing that happens to you this coming year could turn out to be the best thing that happens to you this year?
In 1939, J.R.R. Tolkien prepared an essay to be delivered as a lecture at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. It was titled “On Fairy-Stories,” and in the piece he explained and defended the use of fantasy as a literary form.
The entire work is worth reading, but one part in particular speaks to our current state of affairs—and in a most hopeful way.
According to Tolkien, we’re naturally drawn to stories, of course, but we’re especially drawn to drama and tales with a sudden, happy ending. In the reflection, though, Tolkien coined an interesting term:
eucatastrophe—the joyful (eu) catastrophe.
I find his insights fascinating and share in his own words the deeply theological motivation behind eucatastrophe:
I coined the word “eucatastrophe”: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back.
The Resurrection was the greatest “eucatastrophe” possible in the greatest Fairy Story—and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.
In his inimitable way, Tolkien assures us that in the end, despite every appearance to the contrary, all is well. Why else would we call even the worst day in all of time and space, the day Jesus of Nazareth died, “Good Friday”? Because in the end, the God of the universe has promised to make all things new.
“Write this down,” John wrote in Revelation, “for these words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:5).
Do you find this as reassuring as I do?
In a generation in which hype has become habit and there is no shortage of bad news, the message of the gospel is “good news” indeed. For those who believe and place their trust in the Lord, they need not grow anxious or cower in fear about this coming age. Yes, we must prepare and brace ourselves for any host of troubles that infiltrate a broken world—but preparation is not the same thing as worry.
Dr. D. Martin-Lloyd Jones, a former physician familiar with the ways in which anxiety can ravage a person’s health, offered a practical fix for this bad habit:
Why do you allow yourself to be worried thus about the future? … Worry about the future is so utterly futile and useless; it achieves nothing at all. We are very slow to see that; yet how true it is. Indeed we can go further and say that worry is never of any value at all. This is seen with particular clarity as you come to face the future. Apart from anything else, it is a pure waste of energy because however much you worry you cannot do anything about it. In any case its threatened catastrophes are imaginary; they are not certain, they may never happen at all …
We must not go forward and tack tomorrow’s quota on to today’s, otherwise it may be too much for us.
We have to take it day by day …
If you want to go through life without crippling yourself and burdening yourself and perhaps losing your health and the control of your nerves, these are the cardinal rules.
Do not carry yesterday or tomorrow with you; live for today and for the twelve hours you are in.
Indeed, wise words to heed at the start of a New Year, don’t you think?