The other day in class we discussed endings to biblical narratives. Some of them don’t end with what we might call a “satisfying resolution.” This is certainly the case with Mark’s Gospel, which ends abruptly and on a very awkward note.
Such endings, however, are very effective, depending on the author’s intentions. Mark is destabilizing throughout – jarring, even – and it’s likely that he means to provoke a reaction among hearers with his abrupt and surprising ending.
If a writer wants to agitate readers, provoking them to reflect on what they’ve heard and what it means for them, then a satisfying resolution may hinder his aims.
I remember the first time I watched “No Country for Old Men” with some friends. Being unfamiliar with the story, I was very upset with its ending. I’ll never forget my friend Bob turning to me and saying, “think about it.”
I did. I couldn’t get it out of my head for about a week.
Then I read the novel and watched the film a few more times, continuing to converse with friends about various characters and turns in the plot.
The first verse is about a lover. The second verse seems to be about Jesus:I have a brother, when I’m a brother in need I spend my whole time running He spends his running after me. I feel myself goin’ down I just call and he comes around. But for the first time I feel love.
As the final verse begins, it’s about a heavenly Father:My father is a rich man, he wears a rich man’s cloak. He gave me the keys to his kingdom (coming) Gave me a cup of gold.
In their book U2 by U2, Bono said that as they wrote the song, they got to the end and just couldn’t bring themselves to end it tidily. It just wouldn’t do to bring about an easy resolution. So they wrote:He said “I have many mansions And there are many rooms to see.” But I left by the back door And I threw away the key And I threw away the key.
Why did they do this? That may be the wrong question. Bono has expressed frustration at times when fans assume that U2’s songs are all autobiographical. It’s not that Bono himself is choosing to remain (or become) a prodigal, or throw away a relationship with God. None of that is in view here.
They’re weaving a narrative and they recognize the incongruity of a tidy ending with how untidy life is, how much the life of faith lacks easy or simplistic resolution.
I still wrestle with that song. Why does he throw away the key? What could he possibly prefer to the Father’s goodness? Is he bent on self-destruction and just can’t help himself? Am I like that? Are there times when I prefer the route of folly and self-destruction rather than receiving a good gift and entering into blessing?
An awkward ending. A brilliant song.