Puzzling It Out

“Layer Upon Layer,” ©Lynn Abbott 

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

“Drink Your Ovaltine.”

It’s a classic line.

Undoubtedly, for many, those words recall Ralphie and Little Orphan Annie’s secret message in the memorable film, “A Christmas Story.”

We relate to Ralphie’s curiosity.  After all, most love a good mystery.

Maybe, that’s also the secret to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys’ timeless appeal.

Of course, we formulate our theories as stories unfold.  But often hypotheses must be revised as more of the plot unfolds.

That’s what makes it fun.  Complicated puzzles fascinate us.

Indeed, my best friend and I regularly practice our sleuthing skills.

It works like this:  I sketch a painting concept and tone my canvas with a base color.  At this point, my canvas looks rudimentary.

True, my ideas have been outlined.  But for the average viewer, it is difficult to predict the final outcome.

Beginning Sketch on my easel, ©Lynn Abbott Studios
Beginning Sketch on my easel, ©Lynn Abbott Studios

Despite the painting’s nebulous state, I send my BFF a photo of my opening gambit.

As my closest and most gracious friend, she enjoys puzzling it out…

She responds in turn, via text, offering hypotheses regarding my spiritual inspiration.

While she puzzles, I continue to paint.

Soon, I send another photo.  And in light of new information, she revises her hypothesis…

And so it goes.

"Beginning the Underpainting; Establishing values" ©Lynn Abbott Studios
“Beginning the Underpainting; Establishing values” ©Lynn Abbott Studios

Quite frankly, until a piece is complete, no theory fully encompasses any composition’s intricacies.  While my gal pal gathers a general idea of the finale, her view is nevertheless incomplete.

Quite honestly, I think Scriptural prophecy is a bit like that.

At times, Biblical prophecy has been and, in some respects, continues to be a bit of a puzzle.

In his first epistle, Peter acknowledged, “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow,” (I Peter 1:10-11).

But although today’s believers  have seen the fulfillment of numerous Biblical prophecies,  much revelation remains unfulfilled.

Is it any surprise, then, that given the variety of current world crises, many wonder if additional Biblical prophecy is about to be fulfilled?

I must admit: I, too,  have joined the ranks of prophecy sleuths.  Of course, I do recognize that I won’t understand all.

After all, although the Old Testament prophets were extraordinary men of God, they did not fully understand the prophecies they received.

Even so, like those before me, I can’t help wondering what’s next.

When I think of prophets, Daniel comes first to mind.  Then, I recall Isaiah.  Without a doubt, both men devoted themselves to prayer.  Both cultivated a close relationship with Abba.

People, in fact, could set their sundials by Daniel’s prayer schedule. He was that faithful.

In fact, in Daniel chapter 6, we read that enemies attempted to ensnare Daniel, using his prayer routine as bait. The scheme led to Daniel’s overnight stay in a lions’ den.

But Dan walked closely with Yahweh.  Although by human standards Dan was doomed, our supernatural God closed the lions’ mouths.

Obviously, God had chosen Dan.   Thus, no ravenous lion would prevent Dan from fulfilling his God-ordained destiny.

Daniel’s task?  Daniel recorded prophecy: God’s creative blueprint for human history.

You see, creation did not crumble on that fateful and notorious day in Eden.

God simply began His soterial masterpiece.  He toned His canvas:  Adam and Eve had been promised that One would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15).

Without a doubt, God had sketched His plan to save humanity, but beyond that, the first couple knew little.

God later revealed a few puzzle pieces to Daniel.

Yup. Layer by layer, God’s plan for humanity’s return to Eden began to unfold.  Humanity’s story would be colored by redemption.

In chapter 7, God gave Daniel a glimpse of that outline.  Daniel caught a picture or a sketch of things to come.

The composition progressed, but many details remained indistinct.   In Daniel’s vision, four civilizations were pictured as beasts: one appearing as a lion; another resembling a bear; a third corresponding to a leopard.

Daniel described the fourth in even more puzzling terms. We are simply told that the fourth beast was more terrifying than the others, and that it had teeth of iron.

Daniel wrote, “It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns,” (Daniel 7:7).

One of the horns seems to represent a man who boasts.  As Daniel watched, God–described by Daniel as “the Ancient of Days”–allowed the beast to be slain. The boastful horn meets its demise.

The other beasts lose their power but are allowed to continue to exist for a time.  Daniel’s visions in chapter seven concludes with the arrival of “one like a Son of Man” to whom an eternal kingdom would be granted.

The initial outline raised a lot of questions for Daniel.  Daniel writes, “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was distressed within me, and the visions in my mind kept alarming me,” (Daniel 7:15).

I imagine that, like my best friend who watches my paintings develop, Daniel had more than a few theories about the prophetic vision.  Naturally, Dan began asking questions.

"The Messy Middle," ©Lynn Abbott Studios
“The Messy Middle,” ©Lynn Abbott Studios

As a result, God revealed to Daniel that each of the beasts represented a great human kingdom.  But apparently, it was the vision’s fourth and final kingdom that most disturbed Daniel.

Daniel particularly inquired about the boastful horn.

And God indicated that the fourth beast represented a future kingdom, one that would come in a time far beyond Daniel’s.

The boastful horn represented a powerful and evil world leader who would defiantly oppose God.   God promised that the arrogant leader’s reign would ultimately crumble (Daniel 7:23-27).

And the kingdom of the Ancient of Days would be established forever.

In light of this vision, Daniel understandably wrote, “As for me, Daniel, my thoughts were greatly alarming me…”(Daniel 7:28).

The picture, however, was incomplete.  Indeed, Yahweh showed Daniel more.  The remainder of Daniel’s book described various puzzle pieces of the world’s political future.

Despite the magnitude of revelation, Daniel only saw the composition in part.

Isaiah, in fact, learned more…

a virgin would be with child ( Isaiah 7:14)

the child would be Messiah–an eternal king, counselor, God, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7).

And most bewildering at the time of the prophecy,  Messiah was also revealed as the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:10-12).

Beginning, middle and end.  All the pieces were there while the order and time frame remained inconclusive.

But because humanity loves puzzles,  hypothesis building began. God’s people looked for clues. They formed hypotheses.  Yet, despite their diligent detective work, they failed to comprehend the necessity of the dark and messy middle.

Thus, when Christ–Messiah– suffered, many misunderstood.  They did not recognize Him as their “expected” Christ.

After all, He did not fit their theories. They looked for the final and complete composition … one filled with light and hope.

They looked for the eternal king…not a suffering servant. Without a doubt, they misunderstood God’s process.

Jesus understood and acknowledged their confusion.

In compassion,  He spoke these encouraging words to His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am there you may be also,” (John 14:1-3).

Yes, He reassured them: the kingdom is coming; God will complete His promised masterpiece.

That particular Passover, for those who followed Christ, the composition appeared dark…

"Moving Forward toward the End Goal," ©Lynn Abbott Studios
“Moving Forward toward the End Goal,” ©Lynn Abbott Studios

Some of his disciples, in fact, begged Jesus not to avoid Jerusalem.  They feared the sincere but much mistaken religious leaders.

Recognizing their justifiable apprehension, Jesus reminded the twelve that controlled the outcome.  In the hands of the Master, the composition moved toward a beautiful outcome.

And the same is true today.  Undoubtedly, we possess more puzzle pieces than earlier disciples.  For example, we understand that on the cross, Jesus–God incarnate– paid the penalty for our rebellion.  We also know that on the following Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over sin and death.

We look back to completed prophecy regarding the Suffering Servant. A fulfilled Isaiah 53 has been witnessed– God’s justice satisfied and His grace displayed.

In view of Christ’s accomplished work of salvation on the cross, we know that God’s love illuminates portions of His grand masterpiece.  But our world’s deepening shadows clearly signal that God’s composition is yet incomplete.

Many of Daniel’s prophecies remain unfulfilled. And once again, those of faith look for the culmination of God’s amazing work

We hypothesize, and watch the Master work.   He holds the paintbrush.  He anticipates each stroke.  He works all together for our ultimate good.  Yes, He has promised us that, (Romans 8:28).

Sure, dark moments exist between here and there.

The powerful,  defiant world leader will yet have his day.  Paul wrote in  2 Thessalonians 2 that many will be deceived and follow the “man of lawlessness” or Anti-Christ.

Daniel’s book also notes that the “little horn” will  commit the greatest acts of evil this world has ever known.

Shadows will grow deeper still.

But in this process, we cling to hope.  Our Creator reassures us through His prophetic sketch. He has outlined a glorious ending.

And we can trust Him.  After all, prophecy from God has been fulfilled again and again. In addition,  we know that Messiah’s suffering has passed.

For this reason, we look for Christ’s return as the triumphant, eternal King.  He is the triumphant One, the Prince of Peace (Daniel 7:13; Isaiah 9:6).

“Layer Upon Layer,” ©Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.
Completed Painting! ©Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

Christ’s victory on the cross points to a magnificent, light-infused future.

Obviously, in view of our world’s deepening shadows, you and I may become discouraged.  Frequently, like a young child, I ask my Father God, “Are we there yet?  When will the painting be complete?”

When darkness falls, when heartache grows, when pain sweeps through this world–I  long for the return of the King of Kings.

It’s easy to grow impatient with the process. We want to skip the messy middle and jump to the light-filled conclusion.

But as an artist, I also  recognize that when I push a painting, I lose its beautiful nuances,  details that add depth to its expression.

Yes, God waits.  He knows there are still more who will find their way into His magnificent composition.  He calls beloved children to step into His light.

He knows them by name.

He will add their extraordinary stories to His magnificent work; they are the treasured nuances of His masterpiece.

He has loved them from eternity past.

Just as He loves you and me.

That’s right. God’s process is perfect.

His timing?  Impeccable.

Peter observes, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance…” (2 Peter 3: 9).

And so, while I enthusiastically watch my heavenly Father’s painting unfold, and enjoy puzzling out Biblical prophecy, I must ultimately trust the Master’s hand.

In omniscient wisdom, in infinite grace and omnipotence, God builds His creative story… layer upon layer.

One day, He will declare His work complete.

And we will marvel at its surpassing beauty because, after all, God paints with the masterstroke of Grace.

“Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you,” ~John 14:1-2