This article was first published by For The Church — a ministry of Midwestern Seminary.
Thank you for your painting. It turned out beautiful. Indeed, the idea was nothing foreign to you. Over the centuries, you have mastered the art of painting yourself on the canvas of history. Nero and Hitler were well-trained pupils — both learned your craft well. But, the Dispersion and Auschwitz were merely child’s play when compared to the invention of abortion, the heartbreak of miscarriage, or the loss of a parent. Your artwork is bent, yet humanity has taken a naive liking to it — we have picked up the brush and attempted to mimic your work. Like children unknowingly playing with fingerpaint, we have painted pornography in the place of chastity, gossip in place of edification, and “good stewardship” in place of generosity.
We grieve at funerals where you are present yet welcome you into our bedrooms as entertainment. We have suppressed the truth and chosen rather to believe that our pictures are beautiful, realistic, raw — “Look mommy! Do you see what I painted?” They are not. Our artwork is grotesque and mimics the original artist. While these pieces are impressionistic at best, they have left a mark on history. I have never been a fan of your work, but this piece is different. It is still horrible to be sure, but it has a strange beauty to it. The road to the Place of the Skull and the crown of thorns were painted masterfully. You are no stranger to painting the cross — it is one of your specialties. But this cross was different. No. Rather it was the man who was different. He was silent as a lamb.
Yet, as I look at the awful picture, even now, it is impossible to think of him as a victim. Instead, it is as if I am looking at “God’s backside” — at the very moment in history where God seemed to be acting in precise contradiction to all that a person might naturally anticipate Him to be. When most people think of divine power, they wrongly assume it is analogous to human power presuming they can arrive at a conception of God’s power by merely augmenting or multiplying the most potent things of which their minds can comprehend. But, this man displayed his power in weakness and victory through his ostensible defeat at the hands of evil men. In fact, the longer I study your work, the more it seems as if that man hanging in the picture was grasping your very hand and willfully painting himself into a picture he never belonged in. It is horrible to look at but find it beautiful. For through it God revealed himself wonderfully in history through the ugly and violent picture of the cross.
I hate that picture and loathe the day I painted it. How was I to know that man would take my art and twist it into such a grotesque thing of wonder and beauty. It’s disgusting. The very thought makes me want to vomit. How dare he take my hand as I paint and use my style, my craft to accomplish his horrible purpose? How dare he seek to achieve his purpose in those “beloved children” of his by means alien to him? Death is my craft. It’s MINE! To my shame, I still wonder how that man’s Father — my enemy — could will the greatest crime in human history without involving himself in any kind of moral guilt. I proudly claim the blood on my hands. But who does he think he is to tell me how he would be painted? Who is he to determine when he would be painted into the picture and when he would leave it? How was I to know that three days later he would paint another piece that would undo every canvas I have ever made? It is as if he borrowed my art to swallow it up completely. I hate that man. I hate that picture.
Dear Death (a reprise),
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.