We cannot truly understand a story until we have read it to the end. Very often it is only in the final pages of a story that the author springs the big surprise, that he pulls together the loose strands, that he explains the meaning and purpose behind his interwoven narratives. If we give up too soon, if we draw our conclusions before the end, we will never understand the author’s intent or appreciate the author’s skill.
So too with God, the Author of the great story that is being told around us and even in and through us. Especially as it pertains to the story of our own lives, we are prone to draw too many conclusions from too limited a reading. But we should know better, for we often see God weaving narratives that make sense only in light of the concluding pages. Through the words of God’s book and the history of God’s church, we see the importance of reading to the final chapter. And it is then, at the end, we see the work of God and exclaim, “Look what God has done!”
In the pages of the Bible, we see Joseph sold and enslaved, accused and imprisoned, and think there is no hope for him. Surely his story has been told and has ended in disaster. But as we continue to read, we see him delivered from his bondage and raised to power over Egypt. We see him saving the lives of his people and preserving the line of Abraham. We read to the final chapter and can say only, “Look what God has done!”
We see Naomi bereaved and Ruth widowed, we see them return to the Promised Land in great sorrow and distress. We nod knowingly when Naomi says, “Call me ‘Bitter,’ for the Lord has dealt bitterly with me.” We might think her story has come to an end. But then we see noble Boaz enter the story and redeem Ruth, we see Ruth bear Obed, we learn “he was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” Amazed, we come to the end of the story and cry, “Look what God has done!”
We see God’s people in captivity and learn of a terrible conspiracy to eradicate them from the land. We watch as young Esther is forced to be the bride of a Persian king, a Jewish girl pushed into the bed of an uncircumcised pagan. All seems lost. But then we turn the page. Esther finds favor in the eyes of the king and, as queen, advocates for her people. Soon evil Haman is hanging from the gallows and the Jewish people are celebrating a great deliverance. As we come to the final page of the story we say, “Look what God has done!”
We see Jesus, the Son of God, unjustly arrested, brutally mistreated, horrifically whipped. We watch in horror as his hands and feet are nailed to a cross, we mourn as a spear is plunged into his side, we grieve as he is lowered from that cross and laid in a tomb. As the skies go dark, so too do our hearts. But the story is not over! On the third day we enter the tomb with the disciples and rejoice to find it empty, for Christ is risen! Death could not hold him. With joy we read the final chapter of the gospels and cry, “Look what God has done!”
And so the story continues through the history of the Christian church. The Jewish Christians are driven out of Jerusalem, but as they scatter, they take the gospel with them. “Look what God has done!” Paul is thrown into prison, but finds that his imprisonment actually serves the gospel. “Look what God has done!” John is confined to Patmos but it is in exile that he receives the great revelation of Jesus Christ. “Look what God has done!”
As we turn from Scripture to history we see St. Patrick kidnapped and enslaved in Ireland, and we might believe that this is the end of his story. But it is as an enslaved shepherd that he consecrates his life to the Lord. Then, after escaping his captivity, he returns to Ireland as a great evangelist where he sees many believe in Christ. We come to the final chapter of his life and cry, “Look what God has done!”
We see Amy Carmichael sailing from Ireland to Japan to take up the mission she has longed for and prayed for. But soon she falls ill and must be sent home. Is her story over? No, because she rallies and makes her way to southern India and there she founds a great ministry that rescues hundreds of little girls from the cruelty of temple prostitution. The final chapter is the greatest of all. “Look what God has done!”
We see John and Betty Stam, in the very early days of their ministry, fall into the hands of marauding communist soldiers. Soon they fall before the sword, their lives ended almost before they’ve begun. Has their light gone out? No, because in the final chapter of their story their tale is being told all over the world and we see hundreds, soon thousands, rally to the cause of missions. We shout, “Look what God has done!”
We see Susanna Spurgeon confined to her bed but then making that room an office so she can send books to needy pastors all across the land. “Look what God has done!” We see Joni Eareckson Tada suffering a terrible accident and sinking into despondency. But then we see God rescuing her so that from her wheelchair she begins a ministry that has given light and hope to so many. “Look what God has done!”
With these stories, and so many more, we need to read to the end. We need to read not just the introduction, not just the opening chapters, not just the rising action and conflict, but the whole story as it is told from beginning to end. It is only through the climax and only at the conclusion that we can hope to understand the story God is writing.
And so, too, in our stories. What we see through the vantage point of time in others’ lives, we must take by faith in our own. We are sometimes faced with circumstances that seem as if they must mark the final act. We sometimes encounter providences that make us believe the book has been closed and all has been lost. Yet when we are pressed, we must not think we have been crushed, but believe that God can still bring about a great redemption. When we are struck down, we must not think we have been destroyed, but rather have confidence that we are being prepared for some great blessing. When we are persecuted we must not determine we have been abandoned, but know that we are being made ready for some great usefulness to God’s plans and purposes. We must wait, we must withhold judgment, we must read to the end! For no story, least of all our own, makes sense until we have read all the way to the final page. It is only then, in light of the whole, that we see the skill, the ability, the genius of the Author.