In 1973, William Goldman wrote a faux-historical novel, a tale of “True Love and High Adventure,” (fictionally) based on a ridiculously wordy, absurdly detailed (non-existent)academic tome by (made-up) scholar S. Morgenstern. Fifteen years later, Princess Buttercup and the farmboy Wesley came to the big screen. . .or, rather, for most of us who grew up on it, to our small living-room screens, where we could watch it over and over and memorize every “As you wish” and “Mawwidge.”
Goldman’s brilliant premise was that, while S. Morgenstern’s original work–an epic chronicle of the battles between Guilder and Florin, the excesses of the royalty, and medieval social commentary–was virtually unreadable, the good parts version made a fantastic story. Goldman set himself up not as author, but as editor and interpreter, and gave us what we really wanted: The Princess Bride.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the good parts of my own story since the last blog post I wrote for BWIM. Shortly after I sent it in, I followed it with an email confessing the realization that, even when I’m writing the most challenging and painful parts of my story, I tend to tell the good parts version. When Goldman wrote “The Princess Bride,” he told us the good parts–the interesting stuff, the stuff that kept us reading and watching and quoting-along. When I write, more often than not I tell the uplifting stuff, the feel-better stuff, the stuff that makes it all seem worth it. Maybe we all do that, in our testimonies and reflections and sermons and blog posts. Maybe we all act as editors and interpreters, and try to give what I imagine we all really want: a happy ending.
As for me–I’m afraid I’ve been confusing the good parts with the Good News.
Recently I’ve been studying the “Christ Hymn” in Philippians 2, which sings the great irony of Christ’s humbling himself to humanness, and even to death. In his commentary on the epistle, Fred Craddock wrote: “The extraordinary fact of Christ’s act was that at the cross the future was apparently closed. The grave of Christ was a cave, not a tunnel.” (Interpretation: Philippians, John Knox Press, 1985.)
Oh, how I want to turn all my griefs into tunnels. On the other side of the tunnel is the good parts version: the light guiding my way, promising safety, illuminating the lessons I learned in the dark. Giving meaning to my stumblings. Making my fears obsolete, and my tears worthwhile.
But Good News waits in the cave.
Good News doesn’t need to dismiss our fears, or justify our tears, or console us by forcing meaning out of loss. In the fullness of time, the sound of the stone rolling away, the blinding glare of sudden light in our eyes, always, always catches us by surprise. Because while the good parts version anticipates a tunnel, the great Good News is that caves and graves are not meant to be opened—but are.
Even now, as I write this post, I’m not sure how to conclude without ending with a good part. It feels like a piece of music ending too abruptly, with unresolving chords. It’s not just that we want the happy ending; we need the encouragement that comes from witnessing others’ Good News stories. We write and read and preach and listen in part to remind each other that stones roll, and light breaks in, and resurrection comes.
Sometimes, though, maybe what we need to write and read and preach and hear is that the cave is an agony. It’s difficult to breathe, and impossible to see. Our fears are real and reasonable, and our tears are worthwhile because they are true. While the good parts find us waiting expectantly for the tunnel to be revealed, Good News comes upon us when we are curled into a fetal position against the dark, eyes swollen and nose running and breath ragged. We may seek out good parts that come in spite of our struggles, but Good News comes because of our humanness and our heartbreaks.
In the Good News, may they yet be redeemed.