By Micah Kiel
I finally saw part two of the seventh Harry Potter movie. It was a solid effort, as were most of the movies in this franchise: well made, taut, moving and entertaining. The movie appropriately highlighted the major themes of the books themselves: loyalty, friendship, trust and love.
I was troubled, however, by the ending. Not the end of You Know Who. I didn’t want the “bad guy” to win. I didn’t like the epilogue, the scene at the end when Harry, Ron and Hermione, still friends, but older and with their own children, send them off to Hogwarts just as they themselves had been sent as children. To me, this epilogue is too simple, neat and tidy to be satisfying. The books and the movies based on them dealt with serious issues, and these characters had experienced death, destruction and torture. Yet, at the end, it is as if nothing has changed, as if nothing had happened to them.
Because I’m a Scripture scholar, I of course relate this back to the Bible. What strikes me is the variety of ways that the literature in the Bible ends, and how very often the different books in the Bible do not offer tidy endings. In this article I will focus on texts from the Old Testament, with perhaps some reflections on endings in the New Testament to come in the future.
The Book of Genesis, the first in the Bible, ends with the death of Joseph. He’s generally happy, surrounded by his family, and he’s given a proper burial. Nevertheless, he is in Egypt; God’s chosen people are not in the land promised to them by God earlier in the book. The next book, Exodus, begins with the Jewish people groaning under the yoke of slavery, which indicates that the ending of Genesis, while happy in a way, is decidedly unfinished.
The Book of Deuteronomy ends similarly. Moses had been leading the people through the wilderness for years, but Moses never gets to see the promised land. He dies right on the cusp of the people’s arrival, but doesn’t quite make it. Although he is praised as being a paradigmatic prophet, he is buried in Moab, short of the goal.
The Book of Judges ends ominously: “in those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Judges is probably part of an anthology of sorts, and part of its point is to set up the reign of faithful kings in subsequent books, but it ends with the people in the promised land, on the edge of anarchy, hardly a satisfying conclusion.
The Book of Jonah, although famous for its story about the big fish, is really a book about the ways in which human beings reject a gracious God. Jonah does not flee God’s call because he’s afraid, he flees because he does not want God to relent and have mercy on the people of Nineveh. The book ends with Jonah pouting and angry at God. In the very last line, God asks Jonah a question: “And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” God’s question is never answered; the text simply ends. One could perhaps imply the answer: of course God has the right to be concerned about the people and animals in Nineveh. But, we are left to wonder how Jonah would respond.
There are books in the Old Testament that end with everything wrapped up in a neat little bow, like Harry Potter. The book of Ruth, for instance, ends happily and with a genealogy that clearly connects that story to the onset of the Davidic Kingship. On the whole, however, I am struck by how many Old Testament books refuse to offer a simple, neat and trite ending. Rarely in life do things end neat and tidy. Many of these books of Scripture are told in such a way as to reflect honestly and accurately the often unsettling experience of being a human.
(Micah Kiel is an assistant professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)