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God's Picture-Puzzle (Part 1)

Who has not experienced in solemn awe the sensation of walking before daybreak when all nature is shrouded in darkness? How softly, gently, sweetly, the coming glory dawns upon the sleeping world by small and slow and almost imperceptible degrees! How, in the landscape, one object after another becomes, as it were, evolved once more out of chaos, how one dark mass after another gradually assumes a definite form, until at last, in the gladsome light of the full-orbed sun, "the glory of the Lord is revealed and all flesh see it together!" Examine this marvelous Picture which God reproduces for us day after day! It represents—or rather it is—the artistic union of an infinite number of things into one great whole. We see, indeed, the variety; but, bewildered by the very infinity of it, we for a long time fail to see the unity. And that is why God shows it to us every day and bit by bit. It is like one of those picture-puzzles designed to exercise the ingenuity of children—a picture cut up into a large number of little fragments which, when all mixed up together, seem to have no connection with each other, each bit meaning nothing, and the whole a heap of apparently incongruous elements. Only apparently, for any child endowed with an ordinary amount of patience and having two eyes in his head can, if he will take the trouble to do so, adjust all these pieces of his picture-puzzle together and thus restore the original order and sequence, and out of apparent chaos build up a perfect picture. Even if he fails, there is a way out of the difficulty, a method as easy as it is infallible. On a separate sheet of paper which his father has wisely withheld from him is to be found "The Key," that is, a duplicate picture, an exact counterpart of the original before it was cut up into pieces, and it is obvious that by means of this key no one, however dull or inapt, can fail to put together the broken fragments of the picture-puzzle. And so there is a Key to the Divine Truth, but it lies in a strong fortress and must be wrested by force of arms, for it is written: "The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence." Such is the Key of God's mysteries, the Key of the Celestial Arcana—accessible, indeed, to all, but surrendered to those only who fight valiantly for it.

In this way it is ordained that to the natural man Life shall at first appear as a hopeless mass of heterogeneous atoms having no definite relationship to each other, a haphazard clashing together of foreign elements. This is entirely because in our ignorance, and sometimes out of sheer perversity, we regard each event, each circumstance, each individual bit and scrap of the picture by itself, apart from the other bits, like reading a word or a sentence apart from the context. But if, on the contrary, we admit as a hypothesis that Life, being a part of Universal Order, must of necessity have a meaning, and if we are bent on finding it out, we ought surely to begrudge no amount of study and patience in striving to fit all the pieces together in our mind, first trying one arrangement, then another, and so on, until by degrees all the separate parts are so placed in relation to each other that the result is one unbroken whole, so beautiful, so satisfying to our innate sense of what is right and reasonable that we joyfully exclaim: "It must be so and could not possibly be otherwise. It is one picture, originally designed by one Mind, painted by one Hand, with one special Purpose. In short, it is a picture with a meaning." A meaning! Yes, God always means what He says, and He has endowed us with Reason in order that we may understand what He says. The higher part of that Reason we call Conscience, Insight, Intuition, Spiritual Perception. By means of that Power within us we are able to distinguish between right and wrong. We become "as gods knowing good and evil." The text is Reasonableness. What is reasonable is right and true; what is unreasonable is wrong and false. Even the child can see when the pieces of his picture-puzzle fit together and when they don't; when they make sense and when they make nonsense. What we call his own "common-sense" tells him. Hence, when one arrangement fails to make sense he is unhappy and uneasy in his mind; he suffers from what has been called the "divine discontent," he tries another and yet another, and so he goes on improving and still improving, until at last every part agrees with every their part and his common-sense tells him that his solution of the puzzle is the right one. He sees and feels that it is a picture, a real picture, a thing pleasant to his eyes and having a meaning which he can understand, and so his little heart rejoices. But why give the child all this trouble? Why not give him the key beforehand? For a very wise and good reason: because that would make the thing too easy to be mentally profitable; it would deprive him of half the difficulty, and therefore of half the pleasure, of overcoming the difficulty. There would be little pleasure and no discipline. So if, habitually, the Divine Truth were fully and clearly revealed to our understanding once for all, there would be no room for effort, faith, perseverance, patience, and all the innumerable virtues which produce noble life and character. Life would be too easy, too cheap. It would be like the mere copying of a picture as compared with the painting of an original picture. It would be more or less a mechanical process requiring merely a correct eye instead of all the highest powers it of mind and soul. We should thus be reduced to the ignominious level of a school-boy working out his Latin and Greek by the aid of a translation. Hence it has been ordained that Truth is to be found not on the surface of things but deeply hidden in their inmost parts so that nothing short of strenuous effort shall win the glorious prize. It is by overcoming difficulties that we gain strength and knowledge. Welcome, therefore, Hardship, Experience, Humiliation, Failure, Pain! We need them all. Also without these "Teachers sent from God" there would be an end to all individuality which, being Truth to one's self, or Sincerity, is the most precious quality of human workmanship. Ideal evolution requires that each life shall be not a mere slavish copy of another life, nor yet a mechanical reproduction cast from a common mould, but an original, quite unlike any other life in the wide world. How few of us attain to this ideal because we set up our own humanly-constructed standard of excellence; our own petty rules and theories and systems against those mighty laws revealed to us by the Divine Wisdom; thus working at cross purposes with Providence and frustrating the appointed ends of our destiny, with the result that throughout life our version, or rather perversion, of God's "Mysterious Ways" remains an ill-arranged and perversely-constructed jumble—a meaningless arrangement of lines without form, of light without gradation, of colors without harmony. No wonder that our life has been a& failure, and appears in the sight of all men as an unmeaning piece of patchwork.

Moreover, it is wisely ordained that we cannot ourselves see the effect of our finished picture until it is finished. But as we go on acquiring details, like the separate studies the painter makes for his great picture, we see from time to time, as it were, glimpses of the intended effect. Each day, if we are in earnest, the purpose of Life becomes clearer and clearer. That purpose is the fulfillment of the Divine Will, the service of God, and the service of our fellow man. In trying to perform that service we know by our own feeling when we do right and when we do wrong. Thus is Life's mosaic—we go on fitting the bits together, trying to infuse into our own small efforts that unity of plan and purpose which we see in God's work. The picture grows. We make mistakes innumerable—guessing, correcting, transposing, doing, undoing, erasing, polishing—continually striving towards a point which we are ever nearing but never reaching. Bits are missing here, there, everywhere. But also new bits are coming in daily—new thoughts, new aspirations, new revelations, "Light, more light," and still the picture grows under our hand. At times it looks hopeless; there is so much that is wrong, inconsistent, purposeless. Anon we hear encouraging voices, as of angels, "Hope on! Work on! Faint not, but Pray!" At last we begin to see through "the encircling gloom" a purpose, the purpose—the end and destiny of our life. It is one with that Beauty which we see in all things around us. It is God Himself! But still no finished picture: only the promise of one. And the voices speak once more: "If it is your best 'tis well. Give it to the Master just as it is." And so the picture commenced in this life is withdrawn for a season with the prospect of continuing it under brighter skies in the next.

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W. H. Gill

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