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Better is the End Than the Beginning
January 1, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


There's something about beginnings that is exciting, enthralling, and enchanting. Today is New Year's Day. The New Year is greeted with a lot of hoopla as the old passes away. And as people greet the new, there's something exciting about the idea that a new year is beginning. Yesterday, we were at a wedding—family we've known for many years, watched the young people grow up, watched the kids grow up and now getting married. Weddings are exciting—a new beginning, a new relationship, a new venture, and the community gathers and rejoices. How excited we are when a baby is born, or a new job, or a move to a new place. There's something exciting and enchanting about a beginning. 

But in the Old Testament, the preacher called Ecclesiastes in our Bible, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word, said in Ecclesiastes 7:8, “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning,” —an intriguing idea on New Year's Day. I suspect that means how unhappy and unfulfilled are those who find their meaning only in the beginnings—people who are constantly excited about something new, constantly starting over. They jump from fad to fad, movement to movement, a new idea, new project, new venture, new study. They flit, they jump. They start things with great enthusiasm and when the enthusiasm trickles and wanes, they drop out. They're more excited at the beginning than they are at the end. When they come to the end of the year, these people are more excited and more enthralled about the possibility of a new year than they are satisfied over the old year. They find their meaning constantly in the beginnings rather than in satisfaction and fulfillment of where they are and of where they've been—unhappy and unfulfilled, constantly looking for an illusion. Someone has said that a fatal temptation, a fatal charm is the lure to choose the illusion of life rather than the reality of life. How easy it is, how tempting it is for us to weave some fantasy about something new, some dream—oh, if I only lived there, or if I only did this or if I only did that, some fantasy about starting over. How easy it is to weave beautiful dreams that have little to do with reality. That is a temptation that is fatal. “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning.” Happy and fulfilled are those who look beyond the beginning and look to the end, to the future. 

Better is the end of a football game. For the victor, the end of the game is better than the beginning. We're not always on the victorious side of a football game, but how tragic, how unfulfilling it is when if game after game, the best thing about the game is the kickoff. How unfulfilling if we look forward to the next kickoff, if we go through the football game just anticipating the next kickoff in the hope that we will get a touchdown. Some people live their lives that way, constantly looking for the next kickoff because they're disillusioned and despairing of what's happening. How unfulfilling if the best part of the football game is the kickoff. I went to a school like that. All through my four years of high school, our football team and our basketball team never won a game. We won a few baseball games, but we never won a football game and never won a basketball game. The best part of the games were the kickoffs! Of course, we did learn persistence. And we had a lot of fun on the bus. After the team was seated on the bus, they'd fill up the bus with fans, the rest of us. I still sing the songs that we sang going to and from games, a lot of fun on the bus. But it is kind of unfulfilling and tragic when the best part of the game is the kickoff. 

How tragic when the best part of a marriage is the wedding, when the exciting, enthralling, enriching part of the marriage is the wedding, how tragic. More fulfilling, more meaningful than a wedding is the silver wedding anniversary, and the 30th, and the 40th, and the 50th. How beautiful, how fulfilling is the marriage that has persisted, that has overcome struggles, that has gone through crises, where there are new understandings, where the love has matured and deepened! Better is the end of a thing than the beginning. 

Fulfilling is a job when the job is better than it was at the beginning, or when the company or the institution, or the movement, or whatever one is putting one's labor in. How fulfilling it is when we see they are getting better. Or a relationship with friends. How tragic it is when the best part of relationship is the courtship. How much more fulfilling it is when we can see that our friends are better people because of the relationship, or are they worse off because of the relationship? Is the beginning of the relationship better than the end? The best part of a relationship is when how happy and fulfilled are those who can look beyond the beginning, who can look forward to the persistence and endurance to the end. 

History is going somewhere. As Christians, we believe that history is going somewhere. We say sometimes all things go in circles. Don't some things seem to go in cycles? Some of the Eastern religions believe that’s what history is—cyclical, just going round and round, repeating. In such religions, there's little hope. There's little effort to improve the world because after all, everything is going to be repeated. Salvation in such religions can consist in sometimes escaping the wheel, escaping the cycle and finding union with God. 

But the Christian faith says history is linear. History is going somewhere. Not that it is an automatic progressive improvement like liberals and modernists of 40 to 50 years ago believed that the world is getting better and better. There are ups and downs, there are forwards and backwards, there are good times and bad times, but yet it's going somewhere. We believe that history has a beginning and an ending. Your life has a beginning and it will have an ending. Your life is going somewhere and better is the end than the beginning. Life is a journey. 

In The Journey, Ken Fansier has written, “To live today with vitality we must learn to live, never knowing if we've been successful, but having enjoyed the journey.” To live with vitality is to enjoy the journey and look forward, not believing that the best days are behind us and not constantly jumping on each fad. Life is a journey moving to the end and the end is the kingdom of God. The verses in Revelation, chapter 21, are beautiful pictures for us on New Year's Day. Our hope and the end of the journey is the holy city, New Jerusalem. God is light. There's no crying, no sorrowing, no tears. We don't know what it's like. We don't know if there's gold and diamonds and all that stuff. We don't know; we haven't been there. But we do know that God is there, and where God is, there is justice, there is truth, there is peace, there is joy. God is at the end of our journey. Better is the end than the beginning. 

One of the great privileges of being a minister is to visit people. Usually they're elderly, sometimes they're young, but to visit Christians who are terminally ill, who have joy, who have confidence, and who are looking forward to the glory is a privilege. Sometimes it is hard for us who are alive and want so much to be alive to understand. But for Christians, there often comes a time in their lives when they realize it is better to depart and be with the Lord, than to remain here in pain and anguish. Better is the end, to look forward to the glory of being with God. We're not content with what has been. We're not pinning our hopes on each new beginning that comes along. We're pinning our hopes on the kingdom of God, to look at death from the proper perspective. 

The preacher said in Ecclesiastes 7:4, “Someone who is always thinking about happiness is a fool.” A wise person thinks about death. The fool is the one who looks for meaning in the beginnings, rather than in the end of a project or a relationship. The fool is looking for happiness, but happiness is not a goal. Happiness cannot be found by searching and looking. Happiness cannot be found by planning and working at it. Happiness is a byproduct. Happiness is a gift. Happiness is from God and cannot be earned or deserved or found. It is given to us.The fool looks for happiness and jumps on every bandwagon and looks for beginnings. The wise person contemplates his death, contemplates the end of the journey. The wise person contemplates the kingdom of God in all its glory and its radiance. 

Can you say that you are going somewhere? Can you say that the end of your life is better than the beginning? Can you say that right now, today, you are more fulfilled than you've ever been in your life? Can you say that you have more peace today than you've ever had in your life? Can you say that better it is to be alive today than ever before? Better it is to be alive now and to be going to the kingdom for God's kingdom is at the end. Better is the end if you live in such a way that you are ever nearer and closer to what God has prepared. Eyes have not seen nor ears heard, nor can we imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris