Why Ok is Everything
In a bid to convince consumers that their cellular service is superior to others, a phone company has rolled out commercials with the tagline “When Ok is Not Ok.” They suggest that you would never want a simply “ok” mechanic, surgeon, or cellular service. So you should choose them. Point taken. Of course, they mean “ok” as synonymous with run-of-the-mill and in opposition to the exemplary. But what if the promise of being “ok,” as in restored and healed, meant everything?
On the podcast I co-host, Virtue in the Wasteland, we end each episode with the cliché, “Everything is Going to Be Ok,” as a means of communicating the Good News. We have found that this seemingly banal cliché, when understood in light of God’s promises, can encompass the whole promise of God to redeem and renew all things through Christ. When this reassurance is given by a parent calming their child in the midst of a storm or by a Savior to an anxious and weary people, it is anything but run-of-the-mill.
Now, if you want to hear a more full exposition of this “cliché” as Good News, you can listen to my talk at last year’s HWSS here. In short: the full and free forgiveness of sins and the restoration of all things is the sure promise of the God who came to us in Christ and seals us with his Holy Spirit. This is not simply a private, or religious experience but a hope that redeems everything, and by the light of which, we see, and hope in all things. So, you know, it’s pretty Good News.
But in repurposing this cliché to a cosmic and radical truth: is it really just “ok”? Perhaps we should proclaim at the end of every show, “Everything is going to be fantastic!” Or “Everything is going to be awesome!” And while EGBOF and EGBOA don’t quite have the ring of EGBOK, I think that by recalibrating our expectations, we might see that ok doesn’t just mean “fine.”
I am blessed to have two young boys: both healthy, but both had scares at their births. My oldest had his neck wrapped up in the umbilical cord and began to suffocate as the doctors went into immediate surgery. If you’ve been in a delivery room when the panic sets in across the room and the machines begin to beep and whizz, you know what it is like to see death’s door from an uncomfortably close vantage point. Three years later, my youngest had to be rushed to the NICU. I remember being brought in and covered in protective plastic in order to see him incubated and breathing on a machine as his lungs had filled dangerously high with fluid. As we waited, as anyone in this type of situation would be waiting, we held our breath for the doctor to tell us that everything was...ok. When he said ok he meant: recovered, or healed, or “back to normal.” Normal and ok have never sounded so thrilling. “Ok” means that where death intrudes, the course has been corrected in order to make room for life.
Prior to his Klingon translating days, the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, was a commercial airline pilot. In a rather remarkable story, one that would test the bounds of credulity of even a Star Trek fan, Roddenberry was once involved in an incident as a co-pilot on an international flight with Pan Am. On this flight, one of the engines stopped working, which caused another engine to overheat. The plane jolted, people began to see smoke and panic. The PA system also broke and so Roddenberry went into the cabin to check on his passengers. He saw a young woman sitting alone and went to sit next to her, He calmly assured her “it was going to be ok,” despite seeing that the wing was engulfed in flames. The plane began to tilt downwards as the exposed fuel lines caught fire and the entire plane began its tumultuous descent into the desert.
The plane crashed on a Syrian sand dune and killed fourteen on impact. However, the young woman and Roddenberry both survived. She remembers him pulling her to safety, repeating: “it’s going to be ok.” He went back into the burning plane and rescued the remaining survivors from the burning wreck before it exploded. “It’s going to be ok” is the phrase the woman remembers the young co-pilot telling her. Was it? I cannot imagine a more harrowing experience, and anytime life is lost we mourn it as a tragedy. How could his exhortation ring true? Roddenberry told the young woman that it was “going to be ok,” not that “ it was ok.”
We make this distinction in the faith, as well. When life is lost, don’t call it ok. But because we know that death is not the end, we say, it’s “going” to be. And in fact, the promise is already coming true as we wait in the in-between days of the first and second advent. The redemption of all things has begun with the first resurrection. In Christ’s resurrection, you have a surety of not only your own resurrection, but also of the whole world’s resurrection.
Sometimes it is not ok. You don’t have to lie to yourself or others that it is. Maybe Roddenberry was caught up in wishful thinking. Maybe he was whistling in the dark as death hurled towards them. Or maybe he knew that until they took their last breath, they had hope. He knew, having survived three crashes prior to this, that there might be a way out (I don’t know if anyone has investigated Mr. Roddenberry’s skills or terrible luck).
But good people still die in plane crashes. Anyone who took Introduction to Philosophy in college can walk us through the problem of evil and the existence of a good God. But despite the death all around us, the death that is assured us, we know there is a way out. The One who is the Resurrection and the Life, He who descended first to us and then to hell, is the sure guarantor that death is not the last word. The Word who fells all earthly power is indeed our Savior.
Sometimes ok means “just fine,” but sometimes it means everything. Sometimes it means that though death surrounds us, and even seems to overtake us, the promise made to us and to all is that everything is going to be renewed. We might have to survive even the pangs of death, but the promise is certain that everything has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, everything will be restored in the Kingdom without end, and because this is what we mean, we are just fine when we say that everything is going to be “just” ok.