This is a piece I created seven years ago while I was still a seminary student. It was created in what I call one of my “manic” artistic phases where over the span of about a month, I produced a painting about every other day. I was experimenting as well a little with an airbrush that I didn’t tend to use much. That’s many times how painting inspiration goes for me – in spurts where I’m flooded with all kinds of ideas and then… nothing. It was also the beginning of my more “spiritually” themed artwork.
I’m blogging about it now because this piece still has enormous significance in my life. I think it is the perfect example of how we interpret and understand art. As the artist… I know what I had in mind initially. When I began it was going to be a gift for a friend who was going through a painful divorce. Therefore this was a painting about pain and despair that was meant to speak into the reality of how we just want to curl up and die sometimes. The man curled up was distraught and trying to shut out the world. Turned in on himself, wanting to not have to face what was around him.
He was being placed “In God’s Hands” because there was nothing else for him to do. His curled up form was stripped bare of everything – because that is how we come before God. Everything is revealed. Our hurts, our pain, and sorrow is put in his hands.
It was initially a painting about the comforting presence of God in the midst of life’s tragedies and heartache.
When I finished it, I realized there was a lot more in it than I had intended. This was not a bad thing. I saw that the painting itself looked like a picture of creation. Of the vast expanse of the cosmos – which was in part intentional as I used the Helix Nebula as inspiration for the background. It was an image of God forming something, of the cosmic order. Giving life. It made me think not necessarily of comfort, but of the initial creation of Adam.
And then it dawned on me… it was also a painting about new creation. The “New Adam.” When we are placed in the hands of God, we are “made new.” We are resurrected to new life. We are stripped bare of sin and pain and will remember those things no more.
So which is it a painting of? Creation? The Old Adam of sin and pain and death in need of God’s redeeming hand, or the New Adam being formed and renewed? New Creation?
The answer: yes. Sometimes what I intend for a painting evolves into something that means so much more.
You may wonder why I am still in possession of this painting if it was meant as a gift. (It actually hangs in my living room at the moment.) Well, the individual I painted it for I gave the option to choose her favorite. She chose a different painting. Something else spoke to her more deeply than this one. At the time, I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed because it didn’t seem to have the meaning and speak to her the way I had hoped.
But over the years, I’ve actually been glad, because this painting has held a special significance for me. It has held in tension for me the realities of being both saint and sinner. Of how I exist now, and what God has promised to do in the future. That God’s creative power in the universe is not over and done with. That life sprang forth billions of years ago and God was active and creating then – and God intends for there to be new life and new creation both now and in the future. That we are currently being renewed – and we will be fully renewed and resurrected in the future.
Yes, it sometimes makes my brain hurt to think about what this painting means to me theologically. But that’s OK. The tension we hold in many of our theologies hurts my brain to think about as well. (I actually have a headache as I’m writing this, so my brain hurting is kind of literal at the moment.) 🙂
As an artist I continue to find myself in awe of how my own painting can mean so many different things to me and convey more than one message, some of which were “accidental,” but was something I also know I needed to hear and continue to need to hear. God’s not done. This life is not the end. There is resurrection, renewal and new creation.
But there is also living in the here and now and the reality of our pain and suffering. Of getting through the difficult times. Of what it means to say, “It’s in God’s Hands.” The pain side and the need for new life is especially poignant in my life at the moment – so I am happy it sits here and reminds me of all those things daily.
What do you see?