All's Well that Ends Well
The saying “all’s well that ends well,” which is taken from the title of a play by William Shakespeare, has become almost an English platitude, but there is a profound way in which this saying rings true for the Christian. Even though our lives on earth are often marked with suffering and brokenness, we know that God will make all things right in the end. Our hearts sing when we read the words of Julian of Norwich – which God spoke to her in a vision – “it is well, it is well, and all manner of things shall be well” (Revelations of Divine Love XXVII). Christian hope in the present is based on how we know the story will end. We can therefore say with confidence “it is well with my soul” because we trust that all things will one day be made whole and complete by the power and mercy of God.
But this saying could also be interpreted to mean something like “the ends justify the means.” Indeed, in Shakespeare’s play, the happy ending is supposed to make up for the deceitful and callous behavior of many of the characters. In our profit-driven society, the phrase could even take a vicious economic turn; it could be taken to mean that nothing matters except the bottom line of the balance sheet. It is this way of thinking which, in our modern world, has often resulted in products being considered of more importance than people. But to have such a view of what it means for something to “end well” is surely at odds with a Christian understanding of history. God is not just interested in outcomes, but also in the means by which those outcomes are obtained.
For example, if God were indifferent to the means, or to the “how” of salvation, we would not have the Bible – the story of salvation unfolding through the free actions of (often very flawed) people. We would also not have received the grace of the incarnation, the most precious and beautiful means of achieving an end which has ever been conceived. But as is always the case with the mighty providence of God, the ends – the resurrection and the entry of humanity into heaven – did not happen in spite of the means but because of the means. The resurrection is not a surprise ending which effectively overturns the brutality of the cross; it is the fruit of the cross and the glory of the cross. There is no resurrection without the cross. Death is not trampled down except by death.
Christ himself tells us not to separate the means from the end when he says, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Jesus did not merely build a road to heaven, or draw us a map to get there, but he himself is our way. St. Augustine said it like this: “Since she [Wisdom] herself is our home, she also made herself the way home” (De Doctrina 1.11). Dorothy Day, summarizing the teaching of St. Catherine of Siena, said likewise: “All the way to heaven is heaven for Jesus said ‘I am the Way’” (On Pilgrimage, 161).
In short, God will make all things right in the end because he is in the process of making all things right now. For God, who is not bound by space or time, and for us when we can see the world from God’s perspective, all’s well that ends well because God is both the means and the end.