The Illusion of Completeness

The Illusion of Completeness July 26, 2019

For most of my life, I have been chasing a finish line. One of the initial things that drew me to Christianity was the promise of completeness. I was told “the peace you are searching for in other, worldly things is only found in Christ”. An end to suffering. A purpose. It is the thing everyone is searching for.

The deeper I walk in the Christian faith, the more I see that completeness is an illusion. It leads to vices and idols. It leads to other illusions – shortcuts and people pleasing and false promises. I am not saying that Christianity doesn’t provide peace or purpose. Certainly it does. And I am not even saying the peace it provides is incomplete. What I am saying is that my understanding of peace and purpose are incomplete. The kind of peace (which is really a comfort, an ease) I am looking for is an illusion. I want satisfaction. I want answers. I want it all to end happily ever after: roll credits.


Control and Overhead

Completeness is an enticing thought. We want all the hard stuff to end. We want to find a way around them. An end to the frustrations and confusion. An undeniable, permanent end. Perhaps our biggest fear is the unknown. We want to be complete. We want our circumstances to be complete so that we don’t have to deal with this messy reality of life.

We sense this deep in our souls. How often do we use phrases like “out of my control” or “over my head” or “beyond my grasp” to lament our lack of completeness?

The problem here is that most of our attempts at completeness are not attempts at truth but attempts to wrestle things back into our control, below our heads, within our grasp. From the fruit-eating sinners in the garden to the tower of Babel, the Pharisees, Judas Iscariot, and me in New York City today: we are trying to get control back. We want what we can understand. We want a definitive win that puts us on the podium and sets us on a long, easy victory lap.


Transcendence and Ownership

I’m discovering that this illusion of completeness hurries me into sin. I buy into the lie of more. I grab hold of one truth and ignore all the others. I try to edify with others like me and fear others who are different than me. I become addicted to seasons and circumstances, somehow surprised when they end and I have to start all over.

Transcendence is the most fascinating and the most frightening thing about being human. Take possession as an example. We like to think of things as ours. It is a sort of completeness. I’ve gotten this and now I have it. But time is the great equalizer in human affairs. Your house and your business and the trinket you bought at the market are not truly yours. You might have them for a season, but they will outlive you and pass to someone else. At best, we are borrowers. Even our character, our very lives, are temporary. The Bible says life is but a breath. And we are not exactly sure what it’ll look like after. Our existence is a gift from God and our earthly existence is a borrowed endowment.


Truly Complete

There is a verse in James that talks about our faith becoming “mature and complete”. The word for complete is teleos, from which we get the word telescope. It has a connotation of seeing further, reaching deeper into the heavens. “Complete” is not a great translation. The furthest we can see is not the furthest there is. But in this passage, James is calling us to reach as far as we can, not as far as there is. And that is an important distinction.

Our selfish, human, control-hungry brains think the end of the road is the end of our visible horizon. It isn’t. The road is longer than we can perceive. Space is deeper and longer than we can imagine.

The journey of life is about the journey. It is not about completing, finalizing, finding the secret that ends the suffering. It is about persevering through the suffering. Life is too transcendent for us to master it. Our attempts to do so hurt us in the long run; they give us a false sense of reality and cause us to compartmentalize the mysterious joy of living.

Life is about participation, not completion. It is not about figuring it all out. It’s about taking ownership of our choices and learning until the day we die. This life, this world, are not made for completeness. We are on borrowed time with borrowed resources and have the capacity for limited understanding. Accepting this, ironically, helps us to reach further, to do and be the best we can. To see and reach farther. And trust there is more.

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