Questing for Deus Ex Machina

"Phoenix Song" by Purplie (

Deus ex machina, literally translates from Latin as God from the machine, is used to describe a magical or technological intervention of the Divine that saves the day, generally in an implausible way. In the plays of the Greeks, deus ex machina was actually a machine (often a crane) that lowered a saviour into the midst of trouble to rescue the hero.

One could, for example, describe the many appearances of the giant eagles in The Lord of the Rings as deus ex machina because it is a contrivance which conveniently rescues hapless heroes from fates like lava, fire, or tall towers.

In addition, the well-written, but implausibly “magical” endings to most of the Harry Potter books make J.K. Rowling a master of deus ex machina. It has been postulated that the appearance of a phoenix with healing tears carrying a magical sword hidden in a hat is the best example of a deus ex machina in the Harry Potter universe.

How do I find hope despite all the chaos that comes with the machines crumbling around me?

While we can scoff endlessly at these contrivances in ancient literature and as they pervade current popular culture, it is impossible to live in the real world without wanting, even questing after deus ex machina moments. If we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we are desperate for these events to happen. We come to the end of our money and we yearn for someone to rescue us from financial ruin by being lowered from the rigging above. Our son, our daughter, friend, or lover lays in the hospital, dying from accident or disease. And we weep at the end of the bed, desperate for an encounter with the “god from the machine.”

Every so often, we have actual deus ex machina moments. Are these too convenient? Too easy? Could these things really be true? The cancer is searched for and is found missing. The feeling that pulling over on the highway is just the right thing to do as the deer prances across the road. The craving for alcohol suddenly suppressed. The turning of nature and the recovery of mind or relationship.

Those poor saps in the garden of Eden turn from the way set before them and choose their own path. And this results in chaos and pain being added to the palette of human experience. Not only individuals, but nations found themselves in conflict, the base components of human nature ruling and expressing themselves in greed and selfishness and murder and war.

And so the narrative of human beings marches on. No successive evolution from unenlightened to enlightened. No lessening of societal boundaries or the need to subdue the weak or the “other.” With technology comes some improvements to the state of societies, but also better and more creative ways for humans to wage war and kill each other.

That’s the way the narrative should end. We war, we kill, we conquer. Rinse and repeat.

To be honest, fictional happy endings are disappointing for me. Because in my experience, the utopian “lived happily ever after” never happens. For many—perhaps myself included —the story ends “life was hard and then he died.” Despite that fact, I do find myself longing for something more, some miracle to emerge out of the machine that is my life. The one lucky break that will make me successful—the millionaire who will hear me speak or read my books and say, “Now here is a guy worth supporting” and then drop a sack of cash into my lap. I must confess that as someone who has been self employed for most of his life, I have no retirement plan, no nest egg; I will simply work and scrape by until the day I die or until I am not capable of scraping by anymore, and then I’ll go and live under a bridge somewhere. I can only hope that those people who rely on me for financial support die before that happens.

We war, we kill, we conquer. Rinse and repeat.

So what am I left with? Is there a deus ex machina to fix the narrative of my life?

Because I believe in God, I think there is. I hear the echo through history first penned by the prophet Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, plans to give you a future with hope.”

Despite all that I have done, all that humans have done and tried to do to each other, Jesus emerged from the chaos of the machine to save us, to save me. It seems like a simplistic, ridiculous belief. That somehow God will lift me out of my circumstance to something new and better. And it is ridiculous if what I want is financial relief, relief from physical suffering, healing from mental illness, or just a single day of peace and quiet. God doesn’t promise me that.

What he does promise me, what he has delivered on, is the restoration of my relationship with the God of the universe. He stepped into my life and gave me hope for a better life after this one, a perfect life, a new experience brought about by deus ex machina. And despite all the chaos that comes with the machines crumbling around me, I find hope in that.

Dennis Maione

Dennis Maione

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Dennis is a writer, teacher, pastor, and storyteller living in Winnipeg. Like many his age, he is still stuck in the geek culture of the 80's. He fondly remembers playing Space Invaders in an arcade in his home town.
Dennis Maione

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