The Importance of Missing Pieces

One of my fellow undergraduates at Western Kentucky University was
“different.” He was always coming up with bizarre ways of expressing basic
truths. Almost thirty years later, I now consider him to have been one of
the most original thinkers I ever knew.
In the middle of a heated philosophical argument one day, he looked at me
with infuriating kindness and said, “You only believe your point of view is
correct because you thought of it.”
His comment stopped me dead in my tracks. He was correct. The real reason I
was fighting so fiercely for my philosophical “position” was simply because
I had thought of it. Because I thought it, I automatically concluded it must
be true. After some time of reflection I realized, with his help, that I was
in fact quite wrong. Are you beginning to get a feel for the simple, galling
ability he had to speak the truth?
There was a favorite saying of his, one he resorted to when he was being
faulted for purposely leaving out some vital piece of information in an
argument. “Well,” he would say with a maddening grin, “You can’t say
everything all the time.”
Again, it sounds deceptively simple but the truth is you really can’t say
everything all the time. Yet this simple lesson is one we, as Christians,
urgently need to learn.
It took me years to begin to understand this in the writing of lyrics. I
tried always to cram everything I knew on a given subject into a song. But
songs, like people, need room to breathe and to listen to another Voice
besides yours or mine. I sometimes listen to sermons where, in an attempt to
cover all the theological or doctrinal bases, so much is said that in the
process that the message is left essentially unsaid or else helplessly
covered up. All the points are correct and in the end it all adds up except
somewhere my heart was left along the way. My soul was never given the time
or the space to catch up. The Holy Spirit was never given a word in
edge-wise.
The writers of the gospels knew that it was impossible to say everything all
the time. That’s one reason there are so many missing pieces in all of their
portrayals of the life of Jesus.
*Except for the precious little window in Luke 2:41-52, where is His
childhood?
*I need to hear the content of Jesus’ solitary prayer in Mark 1:35. So early
in His ministry and He is already inundated with the suffering and needs of
the people. What did He need to say to God?
*And what was the content of the sermons He preached for the thousands He
fed? (Mk. 2:13, 6:3ff)
For me one of the most important missing sermons is Luke 24:13ff, “And
beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was
said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.”
“Luke,” I want to say, “What were you thinking!” And what about the “wonders
of God” that those who were filled with the Spirit were speaking in over
fifteen languages. What was it exactly that they heard that caused their
hearts to explode at Pentecost? Luke gives us not a single word of it.
(Acts 2)
Have you noticed all the missing pieces in the details of the crucifixion?
There are no descriptions of Jesus being nailed hand and foot to the cross.
We must go to the Old Testament to learn that detail. (Ps. 22:16) (Only
after the Resurrection do we read of Jesus showing them His hands and feet.)
Matthew 27:35 says simply, “.when they crucified Him.” Mark 15: 24 reads
only, “And they crucified Him.” Luke, in 23:33 records, “There they
crucified Him.” And John finally, in 19:18 says, “Here they crucified Him.”
The single most important event in the history of mankind and we are given
almost no detail. The same can be said of the Resurrection. There are no
details of the actual event, only of the aftermath. Sooner or later we need
to learn to stop and ask “why?”
The easy answer is, of course, that the gospels are not biographies (from
which we could rightly expect such detail) but rather, testimonies. They
“testify” as to who Jesus is and what He means to us and to the world and
this they accomplish with absolute perfection. That’s the easy answer, but I
believe there’s more.
John, who is the master of missing pieces, (no Nativity, no second Temple
cleansing, not a single parable, no last supper) openly admits to this
dilemma in, what I consider to be the most frustrating verse in the Bible:
“Jesus did many other things that are not written in this book. But these
things have been written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ
and that believing you might have life in His name.” 20:30

John’s disciples, who I believe appended chapter 21 after his death, echo
the same sentiment when they say:
“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written
down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books
that would be written.” 21:25
Both passages admit to the missing pieces, in fact enough missing pieces to
fill the “whole world”! John apparently knows several of the “many other
things” to which he alludes but has chosen for some frustrating reason to
leave them unsaid. And so it is John’s gospel that best points us to the
less easy answer.
The missing pieces, the ones we know to miss and the world-filling multitude
we don’t even know to ask about, do have a purpose, like the spaces between
words and the silences between notes of music. They force our imaginations
to lean in and listen, to strain, uncomfortably to hear what is so often
left unsaid. The missing pieces reinforce the mystery. They beg for our
attention. They mock those who would presume to know it all. They provide a
space for our vital interaction and supposition. They are invitations for us
to participate. They provide a connection to our own lives, which are so
often filled with frustrating, missing pieces. In one sense, we can fit into
some of the spaces left by the missing pieces. Because, after all, you can’t
say everything all the time.
So, I believe the invitation is to celebrate the gaps and missing pieces in
the story of Jesus and in the story of our own lives. Seek to fill at least
some of them with courage and imagination but realize that it requires
greater courage still to leave some of the most aching places empty to wait
and hope expectantly for His Presence to fill.
From the Study is a monthly syndicated column by Michael Card. For more
information about Michael Card please visit www.michaelcard.com.
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