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When the Picture is Incomplete

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  • When the Picture is Incomplete
When the Picture is Incomplete

One night while watching the news I saw a story about a criminal who had passed away awaiting trial. I no longer recall the details, just that there were many unanswered questions.

A family member close to the situation summed it up saying, “I don't think we'll ever know what really happened.”

These words have stayed with me. Over and over I wonder if it's possible to have closure if you don't really know what happened. Can you really move on when you don't know why someone behaved in a certain way? Why something played out the way it did?

As a rule I'm uncomfortable not knowing the whole story. The phrase “it is what it is” grates at me—I'm happiest when loose ends are double knotted, when a story has a beginning, climax, and end. Not knowing the reasons why something happened compels me to dig in and learn as much as I can. Even as a child I asked “why” a lot. The answer I recall most vividly came from my mom. I'd ask why and she'd respond “zed.”

But the truth is we can't know everything. Most of the time we don't even fully know our own reasons for our actions—how can we possibly know the mind of another? We make guesses, but those are more often for our own ease than anything else. If we can find a reasonable explanation we can justify almost anything.

Believe it or not this makes me think about grace in a new way. I find it easy to have incredible grace for others when I understand their motives behind questionable actions. When I think I know the whole story I can excuse poor behaviour, forgive debts, and look the other way.

That kind of grace is easy to draw on, but what about when there isn't an explanation—can I accept that? Can I shake off the questions and choose to see the best in a situation? In a person? Can I still have incredible grace when I don't know the whole story?

If I'm truly to treat people with the same grace I've received it can't be conditional. Because grace isn't a prize in exchange for secrets or something we hold over people. “I'll show you grace if…” or “I'll show you grace when.…”

In most cases, not seeing the big picture leaves me feeling vulnerable, and I find it difficult to trust God is really, truly sovereign over everything. My reaction is often fear in place of faith, which leads to a tailspin of emotionally charged actions in a desperate attempt to regain homeostasis.

In his sermon Providence Made Practical Chuck Swindoll says what I'm actually wrestling with is God's providence. What I think is a desire to know the whole story is really motivated by selfishness, fear, and pride.

Can I live with not knowing everything? Can I find peace without having complete knowledge? I have a lot of questions about God and the spiritual realm. Especially when I think about what's to come after this life. I feel compelled to understand the reasons for everything, to feel like I have some control over my life.

Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13:12 come to mind when I start going in circles like this.

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God knows me completely. (NLT)

This passage reminds me even if I find all the answers available it's still only a fuzzy half-visible picture. Complete knowledge isn't available here on earth. I'm going to have to learn to live with unanswered questions and choose instead to act with incredible grace…and live in faith that one day I will know the whole story.