Eucatastrophe

This morning we are speaking about the Gospel as eucatastrophe. We want to see how the God’s Word employs eucatastrophe as a literary technique in order to turn the gloom of the story into bright happiness by a desperately needed deliverance that occurs at the last second. It is that moment when seemingly all hope is lost and yet by God’s providence there is a sudden turn in events and the relief is so sudden and unexpected that the consequent joy is driven all the deeper because of the darkness that had preceded it.

Eucatastrophe – An event wherein a person or people go through much unpleasantness, tears, and trials that finally ends with a great good to the people coming from the most unlikely of sources – all of which could not have happened except for the great cost that happened to them.

Eu catastrophe – A series of monumental and tragic series of events that by divine serendipity end in unexpected deliverance by unexpected means and so rapturous joy.

The word eucatastrophe,’ adds the prefix ‘eu’ to the word “catastrophe.” That little “eu” there means “good” in the Greek. We use it when we say “eulogy,” or “euphoria,” and “Eucharist.” The word catastrophe then comes from the Greek meaning ‘down or against’, and ‘strephein’ which means ‘to turn’.

So literally eucatastrophe is a good turn in that which is down or against.

Tolkien who coined the phrase had this to say in applying it to literature

Eucatastropheis a sudden and miraculous grace […] It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; Eucatastrophe denies… universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium (good news), giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy. Joy beyond the walls of the world, and is as poignant as grief because it was so completely unexpected.

We see this usage in the fairy tales we read to our children.

Jack and the Beanstalk Begins with a widow who is very poor and has a son she has to provide for, and their daily bread comes from selling the milk of their cow at the town market. What happens to the cow though? Jack, the son, sells it for some beans which are promised to be magic. Now they are impoverished with no source of income. There is the catastrophe. However, the very beans which where thought to be ruinous end up providing Jack a beans to seize a goose that lays golden eggs and so is family is rescued after many harrowing turns. There is the Eu in the Catastrophe and as brought on by means which were thought to have been the catastrophe.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Last Battle (1956) the children in their world experience a train wreck while in Narnia Aslan makes an end to the old Narnia. The train wreck was a catastrophe that found them dying but the Eu in it is that the children find themselves running “further up and further in” Aslan’s land.

We see this in our films … I’m going to let you trace this out in your heads but if you think of films like Braveheart.

When William Wallace dies, all seems hopeless; the Scots have just lost their leader, the only man who could keep them from fighting each other long enough to fight the English. There is the Catastrophe

The Eu is found in how the death of Wallace becomes a rallying point so that 9 years later in comes the smashing victory that he had been preparing them for all along. It’s one of the fiercest, grimmest happy eu-catastrophes in film history.

But as look in Scripture we see Eucatastrophe at its most thrilling and poignant point.

Biblical Eucatastrophe

Catastrophe – Fall (Eu – Incarnation)

We are all familiar with the fall but have we ever considered that without the Fall there would have been no incarnation of Christ … no prefect obedience … no sin bearing on the cross … no resurrection, ascension, and session.

Remember God did not come up with the intent of Christ on the Cross after the fall occurred. From eternity past God decreed the fall as He decreed the cure and reconciliation that would be found in Christ. When God created Adam He had already ordained the Last Adam who would repair what Adam had marred so the Fall catastrophe and the incarnation Eucatastrophe.

The fall was instrumental to the good ending that we call good Friday.

Here we find all the elements of Eucatastrophe. We find the what the catastrophe that is the fall, we find the sorrow, trials, and tears that come from the catastrophe, we find the longing for relief and rescue, we find help coming not from the kind of power for deliverance that man might expect but instead we find relief coming from a low born child born to a virgin peasant in the backwaters of the Empire with a court comprised of riff-raff shepherds and eventually foreigners. Without the previous millenniums of disappointment that no Messiah had risen could there be the joy experienced by Anna & Simeon as they beheld the one long promised as the deliverer?

We find eucatastrophe in some of the stories that lead up to the Incarnation.

Catastrophe – Bondage In Egypt – (Eu – Entry into the Promised land)

We find in Israel going down into Egypt which eventually ends in bondage. Then there is the 400 years of looking and longing for relief … for a deliverer. One arises – Moses — but he seeks to deliver in his own power and is exiled to the far side of the desert before God brings him back to be Israel’s deliverer. This deliverer ends up being the reason for the increase of their labors and trials and yet the one who made life harder for them ends up being the one that God uses to deliver. Eu-catastrophe. Deliverance coming unexpectedly from the last place one might expect it.

Catastrophe – Samson – (Eu – End of life)

One more example is Sampson. He experiences the catastrophe by his loss of strength because he was shorn of his hair. This leads to the catastrophe of his being blinded and imprisoned. But the Philistines slept and his catastrophe grew back and so became to Him eucatastrophe as the Scriptures praise him by saying, “So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”

Catastrophe – Cross – (Eu – Defeat of Satan)

The whole notion of our phrase “Good Friday” has eucatastrophe hard-baked into it. We could not … dare not call it “Good,” if we did not know how it was that despite all appearances of catastrophe, there was a goodly ending in that God’s name was vindicated, Satan was defeated and our rescue was accomplished, and that by the very means of the Cross which was catastrophic.

Colossians 2:15, the text this morning captures this idea of Eucatastrophe. Speaking of Christ the Spirit-inspired Apostle writes,

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

The disarming or stripping of power and authorities is likely a reference to angelic beings who are here pictured as resisting God. Paul perhaps interjects these fallen angelic beings as the personal accusers who correspond to the Law as the impersonal accuser who he mentions in vs. 14. These accusers who are hinted at also in Romans 8:33-34 Christ has disarmed so that their accusations no longer carry any sting.

Alternately, Paul may be referring that the believers in the ancient world filled with the occult as it was, was no longer a threat to the Christian. Christ in his Eucatastrophic work had defanged them. Christ, by the cross is the victor over all who would oppose His people.

And he did all this by the most unexpected means.

The public spectacle

This refers to the way a conquering general would return from victory, with his conquest marching in humiliation behind him. The spoils of his victory would include prisoner from the nobility of those conquered. They were being made a public spectacle to be scorned and laughed at. It was public inasmuch as it was done in the face of the whole cosmos. It refers to the grand display of victory as achieved by Christ. It is another way of stating that Christ has bound the strong man (Mt. 12:29). Another way of Christ stating that “He saw Satan falling from heaven as lightning (Luke. 10:18). Another way of demonstrating His victory has He did in casting out Demons and healing the sick. Satan and His minions have been the booty of the conquering Son.

And all this occurred by

“Triumphing over them by the cross.”

Eucatastrophe. Who but God could have ever written such a marvelous true story? The Cross was seen in the ancient world as torture endured by the worst of criminals. It was dehumanizing and degrading — reserved for only the wickedest of men. And here in classic Eucatastrophic fashion, God saves the world in the last place one would expect salvation to be found. On the Cross Christ disarms His enemies and makes a public spectacle of them. Mankind experiences catastrophe by eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree now experiences eucatastrophe only by looking to the one hanging on a tree.

To those with eyes to see this is the deliverance from chaos, sin, and disharmony that had characterized life. He was God in Christ reconciling the World to Himself.

Jesus Himself hinted at this when he said… 32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Of course the Resurrection and Ascension and Session continue with the good in the Eucatastrophe.

For those who have seen their sin … their rebellion … their utter selfishness the Cross is reconciliation after all hope was lost. The hopelessness of it all before seeing the Cross makes the seeing of the Cross all the more good. It makes it Eucatastrophic.

The perplexity in tales of Eucatastrophe is that the Eu can’t be appreciated apart from the Catastrophe. The joy is only as sublime as the night was dark. It is the sense of gathering gloom that makes the Eucatastrophe so spectacular.

I think it was the Eucatastrophic that Thomas experienced after examining the wounds of Jesus when he cried out … “My Lord and My God.” It was to impossible to believe and yet it was true.

It was the Eucatastrophic that filled Rhoda with joy in Acts 12.

14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that she forgot to open the gate, but ran inside and announced, “Peter is standing at the gate!”

What more can we take from this idea of the Eucatastrophic that God has weaved into our reality?

We can take from this the reminder that no matter how hard the trials … no matter how dark the night … no matter how insane the church and culture is … no matter how corrupt the clergy corps becomes … no matter how absolutely certain it seems that defeat is imminent that God has in the past and can again go all Eucatastrophic.

That doesn’t mean He will at every turn. Sometimes the Eu only comes after a long time of Catastrophe so that generations could well pass before weeping ends and the joy comes. But the point is that it can come suddenly … unexpectedly … from the least likely of sources.

The Eucatastrophe reminds us that though

Truth forever on the scaffold,
wrong forever on the throne.”
Yet that 
scaffold sways the future.
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadows
Keeping watch upon His own

The Christian has no reason to utterly and completely despair. Oh, sure, there will be disappointments that drive the blues. There will be times of being downcast because of what we have before us but the Christian can always say, because of the truth of Eucatastrophe,

Why are you so downcast O my soul
Hope yet in God.

The Christian can sing,

3 This is my Father’s world:

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the Ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

The night shall be dispelled

The Good shall come; God’s Triumph won

God Reigns; let earth be glad

We’ve seen God do the Eucatastrophic in post-Biblical times.

In 1588 the Spanish Roman Catholics had sent an Armada to defeat the English so as to destroy the Protestant Kingdom of Elizabeth. Their force was superior. Matters looked bleak for the Protestants. But God decided to go all Eucatastrophic. He raised an unexpected storm that aided the English in the battle.

So great was the seeing of God’s hand in all that happened to the Spanish Armada the Latin phrase, “He blew with His winds, and they were scattered” was used to describe the Eucatastrophe. Later that was reduced in history books as “the Protestant Wind,” inspired by the phrase inscribed on medallions to honor the event.

We can see the Eucatastrophic in the events of the Alamo. The catastrophe was found in the defeat of that small mission outpost but that defeat led to the Eu that became Texas independence from Catholic Mexico. Without the catastrophe that was the Alamo there would not have been the good of a Texas state.

God gave the victory by the most unlikely means anticipated.

So, how can we end this?

We can thank God for the way He Eucatastrophically worked to bring about so great a salvation.

We can look for the Eucatastrophic in our reading of our Bibles, our Western literature and our history in order to see God’s providential hand at work.

We can be brave when it is easy to lose courage.

We can affirm that only the understanding of the Eucatastrophic is key component of postmillennialism. The postmillennialism does not believe that things will go from bad to worse as Amillennialism and Premillennialism does. The Postmillennialist believes that Reformation can come in the darkest of situations and that is because of this belief in Eucatastrophe.

We can be thankful that we belong to a God who always leads us in triumph.

If we can hold on to the possibility of Eucatastrope we will confound God’s enemies and ours. They won’t know what to do with a people who look for and believe in looming victory when they should be acting defeated.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.