Box Top Parable

At the beginning of your life, you are given a bag full of puzzle pieces.  Some bags are bigger than others, but that’s not ours to decide.  It simply is what it is and no one can do anything about it.  

Our job is to put the puzzle together, one piece at a time.  At first, it’s really hard, because we’re just gazing at a mass of jumbled pieces and we don’t have much experience.  Some people are better than others, but for the most part, we all struggle at the beginning.

But soon enough, we’re able to connect one piece to the next.  Perhaps we start at the border or a corner, because those seem the easiest.  

Day after day goes by and we put the puzzle together.  

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into years, and years turn into decades.  

The Funeral Scene

By now, a picture begins to emerge, that of a funeral.  The borders of the puzzle show the inside of a funeral home.  Going in from the borders are the flower arrangements, so beautiful and colorful.  As you get toward the middle of the puzzle, you start to piece faces together.  They are the faces of your loved ones.  You see your mom and dad, your brothers and sisters.  Going in toward the center even more, you see your spouse and your children.  You recognize each face as you put the puzzle together, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

Now you’re at the very center of the puzzle and it becomes obvious you’re putting together the coffin.  After a while, you work your way to the top half of the coffin and begin to put together the body that has been laid in the coffin.  

The Face in the Coffin

The body is dressed well, that’s for sure.  You work your way to the head and begin to put it together.  Who is it?  The puzzle is almost finished now, just a few more pieces to go.  You put the face together, noticing the shiny, plastic skin, typical for an embalmed person.  Their lips are flat, much like the rest of the face.  Their eyes seem to be forced shut and their earlobes are sagging.  

By now you know who the person in the coffin is: it’s you.

You put in the last piece and then look again at all your family and friends standing around the coffin, looking at you.  You look at your own dead face again.  You get a chill.

Belief in Death and God 

You wonder why you didn’t get the box top with the picture at the very beginning, when you were handed the bag full of pieces.  Then you’d be able to see that every day you were putting together the puzzle of your own death scene.

Most people believe in their own death about as much as they believe in God.  We might claim to believe we will die, just as we might claim we believe in God, but how we live each day doesn’t support either claim.  Most of us live as both atheists and a-mortals, denying both God and our own death every day.

If we can come to actually believe we will die, then maybe we can also come to truly believe in God.

Your Face Is on the Box Top

But let’s return to the box top and replay the scenario.  At the beginning of your life, you were handed a bag full of puzzle pieces.  You were also handed a box top with a picture of what the puzzle would look like once you finished it.  It’s a picture of your own funeral.  

Every day you live, you’re putting in another piece of the puzzle of your funeral.  Every day you know where your life is headed.  Yet every day, you wake up, grab the next piece, and live your life. 

Teach Us Our Days Are Numbered

According to Psalm 90:12, this is how the wise person lives, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  The wise person knows his days are numbered.  She knows that each day she is reaching into the bag of life, choosing a random piece, and then laying down another piece of the puzzle of her death scene.

Help Answering Life’s Questions

Life is very complex and unclear.  The vast majority of us have a hard time putting it together.  We struggle with questions like, ‘What am I to do with my life?’ or ‘Who should I marry?’ or ‘Where should I live?’ or ‘Where should we spend the holidays?’ or ‘Should I take that job?’ or ‘Should I leave that job?’  Our questions go on and on, because life is such a complex puzzle!

So we cry out in frustration, “I wish I had the box top to my life, so I would know what to do next!”

But you do.  

You have the box top.  It’s the picture of your death scene.  When you get every last piece of the puzzle of your life together, that’s what it amounts to, and nothing more. 

The Vision of Ecclesiastes

Can you see why I say that most people don’t really believe in God or their own death?  Because we think there’s more to it.  We magically think that somehow we’re the exception, that somehow it’ll turn out differently for us, that somehow our lives will really make a difference.  

But if you read the book of Ecclesiastes, you’ll see that all our labor and toil lead to the same place: the grave.  Ecclesiastes says this not just to be depressing, but to get us not to place the meaning of our lives in what we do.  Rather, once we truly see our own death, then we can truly see God and enjoy Him in the little things of life.

Don’t you want to enjoy life?  

A Task for the New Year

Here’s something you can do in the New Year.  Get a single puzzle piece and write on the back of it, ‘Psalm 90:12.’  Just write down the verse reference, as a reminder of what it says.  Then each day, as you grab your wallet or phone or keys, put the puzzle piece in your pocket.  Let it remind you that today you’re putting down the next piece of your life.  

And, be honest with yourself, for you don’t know if today’s piece is the final piece of the puzzle or not.  You could be placing down your face, who knows?  Nobody knows how big their bag of pieces is.  We only know that each day we have one piece to put down, and in the end, it will be the scene of our death.  

If you struggle to believe in God, then start by believing in your own death.  And if you struggle with the complex questions of life, then start by grabbing the next puzzle piece of your funeral scene and putting it in place.

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” 

Merry Christmas from Holy Ghost Notes!

Christmas, 2020

Martin Luther, the 16th Century monk who protested against the wrongs of the Church, knew his share of trials, including a pandemic.  His precious thirteen year old daughter, Lenchen, died during the plague, almost paralyzing Luther and his wife, Katie, with grief.  This was the second daughter they had lost. 

Luther literally had a death sentence put on his head, so he lived much of his life under constant threat.  At one point, he had to hide out in a castle, disguise himself, and go by the name ‘Junker George.’

He battled with depression, too, which he called ‘anfecthungen,’ afflicted on him by the devil. His struggles with these ‘dark nights of the soul’ are well documented today.

He was condemned by the church as a heretic.  His teachings resulted in many bloody revolts, in which hundreds of peasants violently died, and for which he blamed himself. 

He was mocked and his name was publicly slandered by many of the elites of his day. In some circles, he became a laughingstock.

His own supporters were much divided and hostile at times. 

Luther greatly suffered physically from a severe bowel disease that eventually took his life. 

Martin Luther was very close to suffering and death during his lifetime, perhaps more than we ever will be today.  Nonetheless, on Christmas in 1534, at the dinner table, he shared this devotional thought with his family and friends from Luke 1:26-38:

We sustained a hurt through Adam’s fall.  Through it all of us are tainted with sins and subject to death.  But greater than this hurt is the blessing we receive through Christ.  He became man Himself in order to redeem us from sin and death.  The devil came close to us; but he did not come so close as to assume our nature.  For although he fell through pride and thereupon persuaded man also to fall away from God, he nevertheless did not become man and did not come so close to us as did God’s Son, who became our flesh and blood.  

Meditating on what it meant for God to become a real person, Luther realized that God comes closer to us than our pain.  

Suffering comes near to us, but God actually became one of us.  He put on our flesh and blood and shared our humanity.  He became a man and became born of a woman. 

Martin Luther realized God came closer to us than pandemics, death, bowel disease, controversy, slander, riots, death threats, fear, failure, division, depression, and the devil. 

Much closer. 

God came closer to save us than did the devil to ruin us.  Life might have done its best to try to ruin us this year, it might have come frighteningly close, but not as close as God came to save us.  How close did God come?  He was born into our world in the Person of Jesus Christ.  He became our flesh and blood, and you can’t get any closer than that!  

Jesus is able to save us more than the devil is able to ruin us.  Take it from me, we humans can do a pretty good job of ruining our lives!  But my capacity to ruin doesn’t outdo God’s ability to redeem, for God has come much closer to me than the devil.

Often when I suffer, I instinctively begin to sing a song to myself.  Music has the ability to get closer to my heart than even my trials.  When his daughter died, Luther and his wife sang many songs to themselves to get through the pain.  One song he sang the day after she died contained the words from Psalm 78:9, “Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.”

Not just the compassion of God comes to us at Christmas, but God himself comes to us.  In fact, he comes just as low as we are, entering our world through the depths of a manger. 

As 2020 ends and 2021 begins, we pray you would find God in the depths with you, no matter how low or long you’ve been there.  Remember, and say to yourself, whatever you’re going through, “Jesus is closer to me than this.” 

Merry Christmas from Holy Ghost Notes.