One of my favourite pastimes is Sudoku, that logic-based, combinatorial number-placement puzzle that people either love or hate. Originally called Number Place, the game was popularized in 1986 by a Japanese puzzle company under the name Sudoku, meaning single number. It became an international hit in 2005.
For those who haven’t scratched their heads over finding the correct sequences by which to fill the 9×9 grid with digits so that each column, each row, and each of the nine 3×3 sub-grids that compose the grid contains all of the digits from 1 to 9. Puzzles are rated in terms of difficulty, from novice or easy level through medium and hard to extreme.
I’ve been doing Sudoku for several years, and would rate myself as being quite competent – I would not call myself an expert, but with persevering logic or, if desperate, old fashioned trial and error, there are very few that I cannot eventually solve. I would be less than honest though if I did not admit, on occasion, to giving myself a single digit hint from the answer page at the back of the book!
I suspect many of us secretly wished that that life were so easy as a Sudoku puzzle, even one of the hardest variety. We long for life to fit a pattern that is logical, predictable and solvable, even if at first it appears frustratingly inscrutable. That is, if we just bring enough patience, determination and intellectual effort to the enterprise, we can deduce the solution, thereby gaining that delicious sense of achievement, success, control, superiority and power. While life often will provide us the hard lessons of logical consequence (do something stupid and we suffer), life is also as seemingly chaotic as it is spectacularly beautiful. It is as full of unforeseeable tragedy as serendipitous glory. Even those events and experiences that can seem the most unfair, undeserved and defeating can become the unexpected nurseries of faith, resilience and laughter.
Indeed, one of the greatest lures towards idolatry is the desire to make life controllable, predictable and what we might deem as being safe. We chase after our many technologies as if that will give us a better handle on our world. Or we appeal to the wisdom of economic security, hoping that if we get spending under control, minimize risk, maximize savings, and build up our retirement reserves, all will be well. The list could go on, but the point is that life is as risky as it is remarkable; as mysterious as it is marvelous, and the unforecastable days of sunshine and storm will come as come they will, despite our attempt to order and control them. Or to quote John Lennon’s well known acknowledgement: life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.
I wonder whether life’s seeming disorder or unpredictability is in truth one more of those unrecognized gifts of heavenly grace. Human beings love to try to figure life out – life reminds us that there are some mysteries that can only be embraced. We work so hard at trying to take control of life yet in trying to get an edge on all the numbers or details, miss the grand tapestry of God’s design. We spend so much energy and worry over much of what has never been ours to control, rather than relaxing in the peace and the promise that ultimately, it is God alone who has perfect control over his whole creation, and whether we recognize and yield or not, has a perfect plan and vision for our living and destiny as well.
The Jewish writer Elie Wiesel once suggested that God made human beings because he loves stories. Certainly, I believe that we were created for the grand adventure of being within God’s holy romance with his world, and that the stuff of our lives is not a puzzle to be mastered, but a voyage to be relished. Life for us, as appointed by God, is a journey of amazing discovery into the boundless surprise of his grace, in which we get to marvel in every step along the way because, as Christians, we already know the holy ending and glory-filled destination. We don’t have to sweat and strive to “do life right” or “conquer life” because it is a gift to us in the first place and the greatest battle and victory has been won for us by Christ.
You see, like my peeking at the back of the puzzle book for a clue to the hard puzzles, we already know how the story of life ends. Scripture affirms that the Lamb is on the throne and we get to join the vast throng of the saints in that place where God himself shall wipe away from our eyes all the tears of confusion and frustration, pain and heartache, of sorrow and sin. God has given us all the answers we might ever need in even the most puzzling of life’s circumstances and the hardest of life’s experiences – Christ is with us, as savior, lord and friend. That solution alone makes sense of everything.