The Perfectly Perplexing Puzzle

After I finished my soon to be published book, The Little Church in the Big City; A Small City Approach to Big City Challenges, I began to renew my love for puzzles. Putting together a 500 or 1000 piece puzzle takes time and an inordinate amount of patience even with a picture of the puzzle on the box.

1) The first thing I do is take the pieces out of the box and look at them.
2) Next, I turn the pieces over and separate the regular pieces from the edges.
3) Then, I put the edges of the puzzle together to make the frame.
4) Next, I divide the remaining pieces by color: blues, greens, yellows, reds, browns, etc.
5) I then put together all the yellows and reds which are the most vibrant colors.
6) I then begin to line up the other pieces in rows so I can find a piece easier.
7) I find pieces by looking at two things: the color and the shape.

Jesus was always using real life subjects like seeds, pottery, gates, lambs, and water to explain deeper theological truths. What would Jesus reveal if he used the idea of putting together a puzzle today? Perhaps he might use puzzles to explain how to study Scripture.

1) First, I open the Bible and read the passage.
2) Next, I turn over the verses separately and identify key concepts.
3) Then, I lay out the key concepts to determine how to read the passages around them.
4) Next, I look up key words in Greek to determine their use in this context.
5) I then put together key concepts: salvation, faith, behavior, grace, etc.
6) I begin to line up key concepts with other passages in Scripture.
7) I find the meaning of a passage by looking at similar passages.

However, jigsaw puzzles are not very easy. There will be times during the construction where I will search high and low for a seemingly obvious piece. I surmise it must be missing. Instead, as I put the puzzle together, I find that “missing” piece toward the end. What should have been obvious escaped my careful scrutiny. Why? I have no idea. However, this “missing piece” phenomena taught me that though I may not be able to find a piece at first, I will find it eventually or it will remain forever missing. This is true of theological understandings in Scripture, too. What I may not be able to understand today, I may understand if I continue to prayerfully study Scripture. For example, I did not understand that if Jesus was God, how could God die? Eventually I realized that the God part of Christ must have left him when Jesus said on the cross, “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15: 34).

Another strange phenomena in putting together a jigsaw puzzle is that a piece that I cannot fit into a place, suddenly fits in that very place a few days later. Why? Sometimes, I realize another piece does not really belong even though it seems to fits. When I remove the piece that does not belong, the other piece fits. At other times, I suspect that as the puzzle came into alignment, the piece slips in its place. The “unfitting piece” phenomena taught me that what I may have thought to be true might not be true. By taking out that piece that does not belong, I am able to fit in the piece that truly matters. Such is the case for those who want to believe Jesus was only a man and not God. This concept does not fit when Jesus says, “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30, 38; 14:10-11; 17:21) or reading that his enemies plotted to kill him because he blasphemed or claimed to be God (John 5:18; Mark 2:6-7 with 3:6; Matthew 9:3 with 12:14). In addition, when I admit Jesus’ conception and birth was not only unprecedented but also impossible without a human father, I must conclude his birth was a supernatural event (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:26-38).

And finally, after all the pieces of the puzzle are put in place, I usually find one piece still missing. I call this the “lost piece” phenomena. I look high and low but cannot find the piece and give up. Sometimes months later, the piece appears. Jesus identified the phenomena of being lost in his story about the lost coin.

Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:8-10).

This example of the lost coin plus the example of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) reveals the persistency of God. God never stops looking for the lost to save them. This brings out my own inadequacy. I do not keep looking. I give up, but God never does. God is not willing that anyone should perish (Matthew 18:14; 2 Peter 3:9).

The final example in Jesus’ trilogy of parables about the lost is the parable of the lost son. This parable focuses on the love of the father who runs to meet the son who squandered his inheritance (Luke 15:11-32). In that culture, the father would never run to meet his son. However, God is the father who is eager to meet us where we are and love us regardless of what we have done.

Here is where the analogy between the puzzle and theological truths disintegrates. When I look for a puzzle piece to complete the puzzle, I could say God looks for the lost to complete his kingdom. However, though I can focus on the puzzle to the point of being oblivious to anything else, I do not love the puzzle. I can only love a person. God is a person not a force which is why the God who can be loved, loves us.

The “missing piece” phenomena teaches me to carefully examine Scripture in order to have a right understanding of God. The “unfitting piece” phenomena teaches me to carefully discard what is not true in order to fit what is true about myself and God. The “lost piece” phenomena teaches me that God never gives up looking for the lost. God considers lost people to be dead. But God is not content with leaving the lost as if they were dead. Instead God’s greatest desire is to make the dead come alive (Ephesians 2:4-5; I Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 4:11).

If you looked up these Scripture passages, you are on your way toward understanding God. Begin the journey. Never give up. Keep on looking for the pieces to fit. God is eagerly waiting to teach you because God loves you.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).


2 thoughts on “The Perfectly Perplexing Puzzle

  1. Hermana Marilyn: I enjoyed very, very much your study to understand the nature of God as a modern parable… to all of us.
    Your English is flawless, elegant, methodical and theologically superb. I will pass it to my (grown up) kids and people I know.
    May I use it as a reference for a future study/sermon? I will you the credit.
    Your are a gifted person.


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