the world's last night

In King Lear (III, vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not even given him a name: he is simply called "First Servant." All the characters around him--Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund--have fine long-term plans. They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The servant, however, has no such delusions. He has no notion how the play is going to go. But he understands the present scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand for it. His sword is out and pointed at his master's breast in an instant. Then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his whole part: eight lines all told. But, Lewis says, if that were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted.

The doctrine of the Second Coming teaches us that we do not and cannot know when Christ will come and the world drama will end. He may appear and the curtain may be rung down at any moment--say, before we have filed out of the devotional this morning. This kind of not knowing seems to some people intolerably frustrating. So many things would be interrupted. Perhaps you were going to get married next month. Perhaps you were to graduate this spring. Perhaps you were thinking of going on a mission or paying your tithing or denying yourself some indulgence. Surely no good and wise God would be so unreasonable as to cut all that short. Not now, of all moments!

But we think this way because we keep on assuming that we know the play. In fact, we don't know much of it. We believe we are on in Act II, but we know almost nothing of how Act I went or how Act III will be. We are not even sure we know who the major and who the minor characters are. The Author knows. The audience, to the extent there is an audience of angels filling the loge and the stalls, may have an inkling. But we, never seeing the play from the outside (as Sister Holland has just suggested), and meeting only the tiny minority of characters who are "on" in the same scenes as ourselves, largely ignorant of the future and very imperfectly informed about the past, cannot tell at what moment Christ will come and confront us. We will face him one day, of that we may be sure; but we waste our time in guessing when that will be. That this human drama has a meaning we may be sure, but most of it we cannot yet see. When it is over we will be told. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. Playing it well, then, is what matters most. To be able to say at the final curtain "I have suffered the will of the Father in all things" is our only avenue to an ovation in the end.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland "The Will of the Father in All Things" (BYU Devotional, January 17, 1989)

(see "The World's Last Night," in Fern-Seed and Elephants and Other Essays on Christianity by C. S.Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper [Great Britain: Fontana/Collins, 1975], pp. 76­77)


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