What Price Closure?

I was watching a Dateline program. This one was about a situation where a man was accused of killing a teenage girl, he did confess, but then he recanted, saying he was a teen at the time and was coerced. What interested me most about the story (besides the fact that the man is getting a second trial years later), is the reaction of the mother. Her basic words were “I want some closure here, and some justice. I want to stop living in limbo.” What she really wanted was her son to be exonerated and set free all these years later. Perhaps a better term would be resolution— she wanted an unsettled and unsettling matter resolved, settled once and for all. What is it about human nature that wants such a thing? Why is it that we feel we must close one door before we can open another, or move on? I do not say that the mother was wrong to want some justice. Far from it. But at the same time exoneration is not in any full sense a entirely new lease on life. You never get the lost years back. The get out of jail free card we sometimes get in this life, never brings complete resolution or closure to some human dilemmas.

I ask the question ‘what price closure’ because of course our daughter died six months ago in a tragic and unsettling way, and some folks have been saying that eventually I would get closure, get resolution. I don’t really think I will in any definitive or final sense, and actually I think that’s a good thing.

You see, if my daughter is with the Lord, then the door must always be left open a crack as in the picture above. What I mean by this is that death does not close the book on my Christy, nor does it stop my love for her or interest in her future. If anything I look forward even more to the next chapter in our relationship at the resurrection when I trust I will see her again, and be able to give her a hug.

Perhaps having closure or resolution of the matter when we are talking about a human death is easier on the human psyche, but I think that God does not necessarily want to tie up all human affairs with a neat bow in this life. There are some matters that will not be resolved, some cases not closed, some injustices not righted in this life.

So if you are a Christian you have to live in the tension between the already and the not yet, believing that the best is yet to come. As the now famous line from the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel says– ‘everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright yet, then it is not the end’. I agree. If you are not at the end, you haven’t obtained or reached closure or resolution of the matter. So, I must politely turn down closure, resolution, a closing of the door on the story of my Christy. I must simply wait for the sequel without equal. I must abide my soul in patience.

I have run into some people who have no such patience. Indeed, they are so impatient that when something goes seriously wrong in their life, they stop believing in miracles, and sometimes even stop believing in God.

An adamant rejection of the possibility of miracles is of course a kind of dogmatism that wants a kind of certainty in this life, a kind of intellectual closure, that actually is impossible in this life. We will never know enough about the universe to definitely rule out the possibility of miracles, and as my colleague Craig Keener has shown in his recent two volume work, there is on the other side of the equation so much positive evidence for miracles both now and in the past that it is only a foolish person that dogmatically rules something out simply because he has not yet experienced it, or perhaps has experienced something that makes him doubt the possibility of such a thing as a miracle, or an afterlife, or a God.

Suppose however that’s not how God planned life or history? Suppose its an ongoing story we are all part of which has not yet come to an end? Suppose its a painting still being painted and the paint is still wet? Suppose real closure, real resolution, real proof, real evidence, real justice, real finality does not come until the end of the story, and even then when justice is done, the story continues?

Suppose that one of the meanings of everlasting life is that there is never an absolute finality about the life of any of us, by which I mean our lives continue to go on in the afterlife? How can you fully tell a story that never ends, a story that DOES reach a ‘and they lived happily ever after’ but never a ‘there is no ever after for you’? If that is the way life is, then we need to accept that some doors never close, some closures never happen, some things never resolve… and when we get to the Ode to Joy in the last movement of Beethoven’s last symphony, the band just keeps playing on…..

If that is the way it will be, then death is not a dead end, it’s a cracked door into eternity. And we discover various sorts of closure are over-rated, and they are not worth wasting our elan vitale, our whole life’s essence to achieve in this life, especially when the real vindication, the real seeing face to face, the real justice, the real knowing as we are known cannot come until Jesus returns. So from now on I am going to stop talking about Closure with a capital C, and only refer to ‘temporary closings’ or as Emily Dickson said— “my life closed twice before it’s close……” You should look up the next few lines of the poem. But I will leave you with the words of wisdom of my friend David Wilcox from his song Show the Way….

You say you see no hope
You say you see no reason we should dream
That the world would ever change
You say the love is foolish to believe
‘Cause they’ll always be some crazy
With an army or a knife
To wake you from your daydream
Put the fear back in your life

Look
If someone wrote a play
To glorify what’s stronger than hate
Would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late?
He’s almost in defeat
It’s looking like the evil side will when
So on the edge of every seat
From the moment that the whole thing begins

It is love who mixed the mortar
And it’s love who stacked these stones
And it’s love who made the stage here
Although it looks like we’re alone
In this scene, set in shadows,
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it’s love that wrote the play
For in this darkness love can show the way

Now the stage is set
You can feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life’s not over yet
So we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear
We play against the reasons not to try
We’re playing for the tears
Burning in the happy angel’s eyes

For it’s love who mixed the mortar
And it’s love who stacked these stones
And it’s love who made the stage here
Though it looks like we’re alone
In this scene, set in shadows,
Like the night is here to stay
There is evil cast around us
But it’s love that wrote the play
For in this darkness love will show the way.

David has it right…. and closure is over-rated.

  • Max

    I don’t think there is any answer to these things. But I think it becomes an anvil for practical theology. They are things that crowd in on the mind, and bring an oppression. I think it is important to keep in mind we have a subtle invisible enemy who seeks to overcome us. Temptations and trials come upon us in many ways, and often when I am struggling, I need to be aware it is not just me, but a secret opponent at work. Often this is enough to break the spell of a baffling conundrum. We want to be whole and strong, but like Jacob we wrestle with God, and we walk with a limp.

  • http://www.mattbrady.net Matt Brady

    I have much respect for anyone that quotes a David Wilcox song in an article. My favorite line of your article was, “So if you are a Christian you have to live in the tension between the already and the not yet, believing that the best is yet to come.” Good stuff.

  • Ben Witherington

    So MAtt, are you from Thomasville N.C.??? BW3


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