Jumping to the last page...
I confess to some degree of frustration. Both at the end of the second Book of Kings and now here at the end of the second book of the Chronicles, we learn of the final, tragic fall of the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah, witness the destruction of the Temple and the city walls, see the transportation of the people into exile, and....wait for it...the ascension of Cyrus the Persian and the invitation to the people to return from exile. That would be a happy ending, but for the fact that the little bit the editor jumped over seven decades of exile for the people in Babylon. Two generations, at least, living and then dying in exile from the land their ancestors received as an inheritance from God.
To the framers of the narrative: I think you left out a bit.
It's a natural human impulse to jump to the end of the narrative in order to find out how things work out for the people we have become attached to in the course of a narrative experience. We have to resist the impulse to go to the last page of a mystery novel in order to preserve the tension of "whodunnit." We refrain from opening websites or reading stories about movies or video we plan on watching in order to avoid finding out what happens at the end of any particular dramatic arc that we are highly invested in...and in a world of video-on-demand and social networking, we are discovering a new discipline in etiquette: refraining from broadcasting spoilers. The debate right now is just what is an appropriate window of time to wait before commenting on the plot of a popular show.
So, being frustrated with what feels like a spoiler broadcast does, I confess, get up under my skin. It feels like the framers of the histories want to make sure we understand the "why" of the exile (Israel's and Judah's apostasy and the infidelity of the rulers of the divided kingdoms as they chased after other gods), while at the same time assuring us of God's intent to return the people to the land of promise. Granted, this assures us of God's steadfast adherence to God's own promises, but what of seventy years of exile? What happened? How did they live? Who gave up hope, and who kept that spark smoldering?
We will find out later, a bit anyway. But for now, we just get this, well, gap.
It forces us to sustain a tension, and doesn't give us much to work with in order to resolve it.
That same sort of tension, I think, is at work in Paul's 7th chapter of the first letter to the church in Corinth that we are reading today. His continual vacillation between whether or not it is good for people to marry, or not to marry as the coming of the kingdom of the Christ looms is frustrating. He is trying to tell us about what is to come, and it seems like he is doing so while attempting to avoid broadcasting any spoilers. Clearly, when Christ returns there is going to be a sorting out of folks, and Paul is attempting to inform people that it would be better to keep life (and relationships) as simple and uncomplicated as we can manage in the meantime. Better to be unencumbered by complications (intimate relationships that create conflict for us) than to be encumbered, right? Sure, unless that abstention means distraction and complication for the single person due to, in no particular order, lust, temptation, frustration, anger, conflict, dissent or possible dissipation...all outside of the mutual accountability of a covenanted bond with an other. Frankly, it is the most tepid "defense of marriage" argument to be found in the New Testament: "better to marry than to burn." Great....but to what point?
We don't really know, because Paul is struggling to avoid (or, perhaps is unable to articulate) what it means to us as individuals to find ourselves in varying degrees of intimacy in community while striving for communion in a mutual relationship with Jesus Christ. We are still trying to work that one out...and probably will continue stumbling along with it until Christ really does return.
And, thus, Paul's struggle with spoilers. To know too much of the story is to render the in-between time either irrelevant or a desired avoidance. Jumping over the way we get there does nothing to get us to our final destination, particularly in our pilgrimage through life with God as our witness. It's the journey toward the destination that really matters...thus making what we do and see, and with whom we see and do it, all the more important.
Sadly, II Chronicles leaves me hanging in that respect. Paul just leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth as he awkwardly stumbles toward what I know will be a better end to the letter....but I can't say too much:
Spoilers....you know. ;)