By Randy Limbird
Most people only get as far as the “Inferno” in Dante’s masterpiece of religious epic poetry known as “The Divine Comedy,” and so they must wonder how it could be called a comedy.
In ancient tradition, all dramatic works were classified as either comedies or tragedies. A comedy didn’t need to be funny, it just needed to end well. A tragedy, of course, always ended with sadness and loss. So Dante’s “Comedy” (its original title; the “Divine” was added later) earned its name because it ends not in hell, but in paradise..
Oddly enough, every tragedy begins with hope of a happy ending, whether it’s romantic bliss or victory in battle. In ancient Greek tragedies, the protagonist was usually undone by his own belief that he could achieve what he wanted.
In comedies, things also go wrong, but the hero discovers that life can still be worthwhile, even richer, despite failure. The classic depiction of tragedy versus comedy is the Christmastime classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey failed miserably and was about to jump off a bridge, which is about a tragic an ending as can be imagined. But then he learns that his failures are not irredeemable and the story ends with redemption instead of ruin.
Surprising, many Christians take a tragic view of life. They believe that God has a perfect plan for their lives IF they live correctly and follow the rules. Then one of two things happens. They either fail to live up to their expectations of themselves; or bad fortune strikes despite all their efforts. A business fails, a child dies, a spouse seeks a divorce. The result either way is despair. Life will never be what they had hoped for.
The alternative is the comic view of life. Our efforts never produce what we think they will, and life constantly defies our expectations. Our original plans may crash and burn, but something even better can rise from the ashes.
The tragic view defines life in terms of what we had hoped for. The comic view constantly redefines life in terms of what we have been given.
I’ve always hated that bumper sticker, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” But I have to admit there is a grain of truth hidden within that clumsy statement. Those who seek perfection without forgiveness are doomed to tragedy. Those who truly understand forgiveness are those who have actually experienced the grace of God, and therefore have confidence in the promise of Romans 8:28, that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”
Randy Limbird is editor of
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