Everybody loves a happy ending. The fact is, though, that such an outcome usually depends upon just exactly what degree of “happy” the individual is expecting. If those expectations are unrealistically high, well….
The Bible’s classic illustration of this is found in God giving the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. When God first spoke to Abraham, He called him to a land that He would show him (Genesis 12:1). Abraham would spend the rest of his life living in tents as a nomad in that land, always having the divine deed to it (Genesis 13:14-18) but never being able to possess it in the usual way.
It would be Abraham’s descendants, once they had multiplied to over two million strong, who would possess Canaan, but even that would only come after 400 years of enslavement to the Egyptians (Genesis 15:13-14). At last, though, the nation of Israel did settle Canaan. Moses led them to the brink of settling it, and Joshua led them in finishing the job.
But what did that settling entail? Oh not much, just the small matter of conquering the land. That meant that Israel had to go to war against the land’s occupants, various races of warlike people who worshiped strange idols and held to moral standards that were vastly different than Israel’s. Some of these people were literally gigantic in stature and all of them lived in cities that were heavily fortified (Numbers 13:25-33).
I can just imagine some Israelite saying to God, “Uh, Lord, I kind of thought that after we had endured the Egyptian persecution and the centuries of waiting, us possessing Canaan would be a lot easier. If you have given us this land, why do we have to fight to possess it?” The phrase “happily ever after” hadn’t been invented yet, but I figure that’s the outcome that many Israelites had in mind once they arrived at Canaan. They were looking for a walk in the park, not a war in the land.
But isn’t that just like life? A man asks God to open a door for him to get a job that pays enough to afford a good life, and God grants that request. But does that new job produce a “happily ever after” ending? Nope. What it produces is a year-in-year-out routine of clocking in and doing the work, aggravating as that work might sometimes get, that comes with that job.
The man then asks God to send him a woman to marry, and God grants that request. But does that wedding produce a “happily ever after” ending? Nope. What it produces is a marriage that has to be cultivated and maintained every day of every week of every month of every year of every decade.
The married couple then asks God to bless them with a child, and God grants that request. But does that birth produce a “happily ever after” ending? Nope. What it produces is a lifetime responsibility of raising that child, nurturing it, training it, and meeting its constantly changing needs.
You see, somewhere along the line we Christians got the wrong idea about Canaan. Somehow Israel’s promised land of Canaan became associated with our promised land of heaven. That’s why we have so many songs that compare dying to crossing over the Jordan river. Well, speaking for myself, I certainly hope that heaven isn’t like Canaan. I’d hate to get up there and have God say, “Okay you’re here in the land I’ve given you, but in order for you to settle down in it you’re going to have to fight giant angels who live in fortified cities.” So much for heaven being a place of rest!
The takeaway lesson from all this is that as long as we are living upon this earth there really is no idyllic “happily ever after” state. What we get instead are a series of challenges that await us around every new corner in every new place. Even retirement presents its own unique set of potential pitfalls and problems. Will you have enough money to live comfortably? Will your health hold up? How will you occupy your time? Will you downsize? Will you move to be closer to your kids? You get the idea.
This doesn’t mean that some seasons of your life aren’t easier or more pleasant than others. It also doesn’t mean that God doesn’t know when you need to drive on a smooth road for a while. But just remember that life on earth is not designed to be a cakewalk. Perhaps it was once, in Eden, but those days are long gone. Now there are giants to be fought, fortified cities to be conquered, and unruly lands to be possessed. Summing up the situation, there is work to be done and godly service to be rendered. Fairy tale endings are for children’s books and the movies, not for real life. For the Christian, such an ending only comes in the afterlife, and tragically for the lost person it doesn’t even come then.