We’re all gonna die. Act accordingly. ― Frank Costello
By nature, every human life is tragic. This is true in at least two senses. First of all, everyone’s story is described by Psalm 103:
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. (Ps. 103:15)
This is the shape of the classic tragedy, the frowny face, up then down. Whereas a comedy is a smile—down then up—a tragedy is a tale with a “miserable ever after.” In literature, a story that ends with a funeral is a tragedy. Well, every human story ends with a funeral, so what does that say about our lives? They are tragic to the end. This is the first sense in which life is tragic.
But there’s a second sense. We compound the tragedy by choosing to live tragically. We determine to clamber up in the world, to grasp desperately at all the experiences and achievements we can, knowing that soon we will lose it all. Mafia boss Frank Costello put it starkly: “We’re all gonna die. Act accordingly.” You might remember Jack Nicholson saying the line in The Departed.) But you don’t have to be a murderous crime lord to live out this philosophy. Every boast we make, every lie we tell, every lust we indulge, every slander we unleash, every grudge we bear follows the same basic pattern: we’re trying to climb, and we’re fearing our fall. One way or another, we all live the tragedy.
Yet when Jesus came, his first words in Mark’s Gospel were these:
The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news. (Mark 1:15)
“Repent” literally means “change your mind.” You had believed in bad news. You had believed that there was no Savior, no hope, and you had lived accordingly. You had lived out the tragedy, believing that, when it comes to living the good life, it was down to you. With that mindset you thought God was the problem and you were the solution.
But no, says Jesus, you should repent. You need a revolution of thought that will revolutionize your life. God is not the problem and you are not the solution. You are the problem. God is the solution. Think again. Repent.
Horace Walpole once said, “The world is a comedy to those who think; a tragedy to those who feel.” That is truer than perhaps Walpole knew. If we simply react emotionally to the sorrows of this world, we will instinctively call life a tragedy. But if we think—more accurately, if we think again in repentance—we will see that even those sorrows bear the character of a comedy.
Everything that hurts so horrifically in this world hurts because it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Every heartache is an instance of something spoiled. It’s health destroyed by disease, order wrecked by chaos, love ruined by hatred. All our pain is about something wonderful falling into catastrophe. Yet that is the shape of a comedy, at least the first half of it. Think! Even our sorrows testify to the comedy, because a comedy is a story that plunges down into the valley but then—can you believe it?—it finishes on a high.
Could this be true? Think! Look again to Jesus. Could he be the one to turn the story? Could he be the Author writing himself into the tale? Has he come to twist the plot? Is his death merely a tragedy, or is it a turning point? Is he a tragic hero in a losing cause, or is he an unconquerable pioneer, blasting through death and out into cosmic hope? If you start to see that it’s the latter, then you’re starting to embrace the comedy.
Live the Comedy
When Jesus says, “Repent and believe the good news,” he is inviting you to renounce the tragedy and embrace the comedy. You used to think life was about climbing to the top of the heap in order to enjoy your brief moment in the sun. That’s utterly tragic. Repent. Jesus invites you to embrace the comedy.
“Wonderful!” you say, “Sounds like a hoot!” Well, it is. But this is what joy looks like: the smiley face, down then up. It looks like descending into the valley of serving, sacrificing, suffering. It’s following Christ’s path of other-centered love.
Living the comedy means plunging down into self-giving with the certain hope of vindication. It’s the opposite of our natural, tragic ways. We used to climb up in the world, to grab at life selfishly. We’ve renounced that now. The path is down and then up. So we give our lives away to others and find that we’re enjoying real life—Christ’s life, the life of the kingdom.
None of this is the price of our salvation. It’s the shape. Because of Jesus—because of Easter—there really is a happily ever after. Life really is a divine comedy. Act accordingly.
- What’s So Funny About Easter? (Glen Scrivener)