Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Friendship of Tragedy and Comedy

by CWK

            Christianity teaches us that comedy and tragedy are not, in reality, separate. They are simultaneous, and interrelated. The cross is both the greatest tragedy of human history as well as a victory over Satan. It is defeat and victory: a tragedy and a comedy.
            So, it should not surprise that 2 Kings 6.24ff is both a tragedy and a comedy. To be more precise: 2 Kings 6.24ff is a comedy with tragic elements: a comedy with tragic interludes.
            Tragedy needs comedy, and comedy needs tragedy. Tragedy is the backdrop to comedy. Tragedy is the interlude to comedy. Tragedy (losing) makes us appreciate things more (comedy). Thus, tragedy and comedy are interwoven in every story. You can’t write a purely comic book. It has to have some tragedy in it, or it won’t be funny.
            There is a parallel to this in Romans 9.22-23 where the tragedy of sin, and the comedy of grace, are set side by side. Sin, a tragedy, yet glorifies God’s justice. His justice and wrath in turn glorify His mercy. Without wrath, we could not understand mercy: we couldn’t appreciate it.
            There are a couple of common fallacies when talking of comedy and tragedy:

1) Separating them into two completely different classes, as if they had no relation. In fact, they are interdependent. Critics try and consider these two classes differently, and err in their conclusions as a result. Thus, critics argue that Romeo and Juliet is either a comedy or a tragedy. Of course, it is both: a comedy with undertones of tragedy.

2) Making the tragic the keynote – as if tragedy were the essence of life. Much popular entertainment falls into this fallacy. Tragedy is presented as complete tragedy, with no chance, ever, of a happy ending. This is contrary to the truth. In the end, no matter what, God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him (Romans 8.28). In the end, God will be glorified, and his people will be happy. All’s well that ends well – and, knowing our God as we do – we know that all will most certainly end well. Christians know that, even if tragedy is part of our story, it is not the whole story. That's not how our story ends. That's not how the world ends. This is how the world ends: by beginning anew. In short, tragedy should always be the mini-narrative, and comedy the meta-narrative.

            2 Kings 6.24ff contains some of the more grievous details in the literature of the Bible (next only to select passages in Genesis, and Judges). Yet, the narrator is careful not to make tragedy the keynote. He sprinkles comedy in. He devotes time to a quirky group of lepers. He shows us that all ends well. And, even if all does not end well in the book of 2 Kings, even then there is a note of hope (2 Kings 25.29).  The Bible is an essentially hopeful book: essentially, a comic book. 

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