A long time ago, when I was a kid, we found it very entertaining to assemble jigsaw puzzles. No moving parts, no batteries required, silent, and very boring by modern standards, I suppose. Do they even sell them any more? In many closets in the USA you can find boxes containing such puzzles, once carefully assembled by people, many of whom are now long dead. But we liked them. We would look for an appealing picture on the cover of the box, buy them and bring them home. You would carefully pour the picture pieces out onto the dining room table or maybe onto a card table in the living room. Then family members would gather around and start turning the pieces face side up and the process of assembly would begin.
In really fanatical families two puzzles were being worked on at the same time. Some people were very methodical, they would start organizing the outside of the puzzle, the frame so to speak. I tended more towards trying to find something recognizable in the picture, like the face of a kitten. I would work to gather all the kitten pieces and when I had formed the kitten, slide it carefully into place in relation to the frame. We would work for hours at this task, both frustrating and yet at the same time relaxing. Soon nothing mattered but how the puzzle was coming along. It is an old joke among jigsaw puzzle workers, that towards the end you would get the sinking feeling that there were missing pieces, that there were not enough to complete the picture. I never heard of this happening, the pieces were always there, you just had to keep on trying.
I suppose at the puzzle factory, if a puzzle piece was found after all of them were boxed up and shipped away, somebody was in big trouble. But there were times when a piece was seemed to be missing, it was lost after the box was opened. In hot weather it might stick to someone's arm when they walked away from the table. In cold weather a piece could be brushed off the table by the cuff of a shirt or sweater.
But they were almost always found. Though I have seen old boxes marked "piece missing" as a warning to the next ones to try to assemble it. Such a missing piece was the cause of consternation one fall day many years ago. We had completed a winter scene of a New England church surrounded by snow and pine trees. Every piece was in place except here was a blank place at the top of the church's steeple. Where the gold ball at the top of the steeple should have been, the wood of our dining room table showed through. We went to great lengths to find this missing piece. We used a flashlight to look under table and chairs. Someone took the grill off of the hot air register and looked down there. They found a hair pin and a couple of my marbles, but not the missing piece. We were determined to find this gold dome piece.
My sister suggested we empty out the contents of the vacuum sweeper bag on some newspapers, maybe it was there. Then, during a pause, when all was quiet, we heard the slurping sound of our Cocker Spaniel slowly chewing on something. I remember getting down on the floor and looking at her.
"Garters, what are you chewing on?" She was very gentle and allowed me to open her mouth. There, on her tongue, was the missing piece. It was soggy with saliva, it had tooth marks on it, but it was still recognizable as the golden dome. We gave Garters reward for surrendering it, a piece of a chocolate doughnut, if I remember right, then held the puzzle piece under the faucet to wash it off. The missing dome eventually dried out. It was a little rough and not shaped quite right, but we managed to press it into place. The picture of the church was now complete.
There is another picture being assembled today, as you read this. It has been in the process of completion for almost two thousand years. All kinds of people have been working on it, gathering the pieces. These pieces didn't come in a neat box. They were scattered through time and space, all over the earth, in fact. The pieces are people, the people who are The Church, the Bride of Christ. They are not His only people, but they are the ones who make up his Bride. If any piece is missing, the picture is not complete. If any person who comprises the bride is not in the picture, the church is not complete.
The One who directs the assembly is God. He is patient, which is very fortunate for us. Because it has taken centuries for those who comprise this picture to appear, to be born. He waits for them to be born and to be drawn to him.
Sometimes when one of the puzzles was so complex and so beautiful, people would save them. They would very carefully slide the completed picture onto a piece of cardboard or wood and coat it with varnish, to be saved for all time.
We are such a picture to God. It is often asked, why doesn't God take His church, now? People mock those who wait for Him. In Peter's day they taunted Christians who awaited the Lord's return. But he knew the picture was not complete, many of its members were yet to be born. So the Lord was waiting. He was "long suffering", meaning "patient".
That is the meaning of the words in 2 Peter 3:9;
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
When will the puzzle be completed? When the last piece has been put into place. It is a puzzle only to us.
God has known what the picture will look like from the beginning.