Reading Time: 4 mins

Psalms of Eucatastrophe

Reading Time: 4 mins

In our catastrophes - whatever they may be, however large or small they are - we cry out for rescue, deliverance, and salvation.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a man of many words. Out of words he created worlds. And out of words, he also formed new words. Out of all the words Tolkien wrote, my favorite word he wrote is a word he invented: eucatastrophe.

I’ve written on eucatastrophe several times before. The word derives from the Greek words, ‘eu for ‘good’, and ‘katastrophe’ for destruction. Eucatastrophe is the collision of grief and joy. It is the sudden and joyous turn of the story. It’s the moment just when all seems lost, hope is gone, and then suddenly, there is rescue. It is a good catastrophe, the sudden turn of events that you never saw coming, never would have expected, and never deserved. In a word, it is grace.

Not surprising, Tolkien’s eucatastrophe is found all over his writings. And according to Tolkien, it was one of the necessary elements in good faerie stories. In a world full of doubt, despair, hopelessness, guilt, shame, sin, and death, Tolkien recognized that we long for, and need, a true happy ending. We need a eucatastrophe which swallows up all catastrophes that fill our eyes, ears, and minds. Above all, Tolkien found this in the greatest story of all: the one true story of eucatastrophe, the good news of Jesus crucified and risen. 

Following Tolkien’s hermeneutic of eucatastrophe, we see this sudden joyous turn, this undoing of wrong, and restoration, consolation, and unexpected salvation all over the place in God’s Word as well. Scripture is full of God’s great work of eucatastrophe. 

Zacchaeus witnessed a eucatastrophe when Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10). Paul preached the eucatastrophe when he wrote, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23-24).

Noah and his family were on board a floating eucatastrophe while it rained 40 days and 40 nights. Abraham and Isaac witnessed a eucatastrophe when the Lord provided a ram in the thicket. Jonah found himself engulfed and expelled in a eucatastrophe as he journeyed in and out of the belly of a fish. 

One of the other places in Scripture where we see God’s gracious work of eucatastrophe appear time and again is in the Psalms. As I read and reread the Psalms, I notice this constant theme: in our catastrophes - whatever they may be, however large or small they are - we cry out for rescue, deliverance, and salvation. And then God works his great deliverance, rescue, and salvation. When all is hopeless, dark, and we’re lost in catastrophe, the Lord works a eucatastrophe. 

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God (Ps. 69:1-3).

Make haste, O God, to deliver me!
O Lord, make haste to help me! (Ps. 70:1)

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me, and save me! (Ps. 71:1-2)

These are just a few psalms of the Eucatastrophe. There are many, many more. After all, our Lord Jesus says that all the Psalms, Prophets, and books of Moses are about his dying and rising for you. 

With the psalmist and the psalms on our lips, we cry out for eucatastrophe. We pray to the Lord for rescue, deliverance, and salvation. And he does. Undeservedly. Unexpectedly. Graciously. Abundantly. The Lord, the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The Lord, the Lord abounding and excelling in eucatastrophe. 

He sent from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of many waters.
He rescued me from my strong enemy
and from those who hated me,
for they were too mighty for me.
They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a broad place;
he rescued me, because he delighted in me (Ps. 18:16-19).

When we sing, pray, and read the psalms, the same Lord Jesus who gave us these words to pray, promises to hear and answer our prayers in his good and gracious will. In his word and by his promise, he delivers us by the eucatastrophe of his death and resurrection. When our constant refrain is help, save, rescue, deliver, our Lord sings a blessed chorus of rescuing, redeeming love. 

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears (Ps. 18:6).

In the midst of our own catastrophes, Jesus fills you with the eucatastrophe of his dying and rising. Like Noah, Jesus saves us through the water and brings us into his new creation. Like Isaac, the Lamb of God is caught in the thicket of our iniquity to save us from death. And like David prays in Psalm 23, Jesus the Good Shepherd prepares a table, where the fruit of his eucatastrophe on the cross is given to us in the Eucharist. 

In the Psalms we are reminded again and again, not only that we need a savior, but that our Lord works his gracious eucatastrophe to us in Jesus, who delivers, rescues, and saves again and again. 

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man! (Ps. 107:11-15)