My kids and I have been studying Vincent Van Gogh this term. I was looking at the copies of his paintings I have hanging in our kitchen today, and simply captivated by their beauty. Somehow he captured the paradox of beauty and sorrow with brush strokes, with color and and shadows his paintings tells us something about humanity that few can even communicate with words.
If you are familiar with Van Gogh at all, you have likely seen his most famous painting, Starry Night. What few people know is that Van Gogh painted his magnum opus when he was institutionalized. What is arguably one of the most magnificent pieces of art in the world, was born out of tremendous darkness, birthed from the mind of a man whose life was one wrought with rejection, uncertainty, and sorrow.
Light shines in the dark. Beauty is often found in the margins of frailty. Why? Because Light and Beauty have their source in God. The one who cannot be overcome by darkness or frailty. Uncertainty is not a place of futility when we know there is One who is certain.
I’m reminded of this every spring. Every single year, spring follows winter. Every single year, the dead things give way for new life; a gray landscape, quite suddenly, bursts with color; the silence is stirred by the voices of returning birds; and the earth reminds us once again that rebirth can come out of death. Every spring we see tiny hints of resurrection, life after death.
Last weekend, I went to the store for the first time after being socially distant for a week. I was struck by so many scared faces, furtive glances, quick steps.
So I bought flowers.
Why? As W.H. Auden wrote, “if the moths don’t get you, the wolves will.”
Life is fragile, it always has been. If COVID-19 doesn’t get us, the economy will. If all returns to normal we can still be hit by a car, suffer from strokes, cancer, heart attacks, human violence, freak accidents, hurricanes, earthquakes.
Life is fragile.
It always has been. But for a long time, many of us have been insulated from this reality. Now it feels like just a whisper (perhaps a microscopic virus, or the virus of herd panic) could knock over the infrastructure that we have so long relied on for our security.
Many of us are disoriented by the sudden shift in our foundation. Some of us never realized we had put so much of our faith in entertainment, our government, the economy, healthcare, or well stocked grocery stores.
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, this ought to bring our attention to the state of our own hearts. Have we been misplacing our faith in what we thought we could control?
As we cancel distant plans, wonder what will come days, weeks, and months from now, and just really wish someone would tell us what will happen–how long until we can go back to normal; perhaps we ought to remember what God has already told us. Regardless of what comes next we ought not be saying “tomorrow I will do such and such”, but always remembering Deo Volente–if God wills it. Maybe we shouldn’t just return to normal, if we have forgotten that.
Right now, I wake up every morning to a new piece of information. Going to bed I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but the thing is, I never really did. We have not lost control, we never had it to begin with. God has not changed, it is we who have had a sudden perspective shift, perhaps a needed one.
Now is the time to renew our minds with the truth that God reigns. His promises are as true today as they were months ago. If our peace has been stolen from us in these sudden changes, it is likely because it was misplaced to begin with. God reigned when Solomon was king over Isreal, and he reigned when the temple was destroyed and looted in 70AD; he reigned during Pax Romana, and when Rome burned; he reigned during the Enlightenment, and during the Great Wars; he reigned last year, and he reigns today. His promises of peace have never been contingent on how ordered the world around us is, they have always depended on him, and he is unchanging, loving, and in complete control.
Entertainment is fleeting, governments rise and fall, health fails, shipments are suspended, crops wither, famine comes, droughts happen. Life is fragile. God is not.
So look at the flowers. They are beautiful, designed as they are to bloom and then wither, they do not worry themselves over when their petals will droop.
Listen to the spring birds, who sing today, without question of whether the sky will fall.
Look to our Savior, who reminds us that an empty tomb eclipses a cross.
Remember who holds the world together, and trust him with today, tomorrow, and forever, because he’s already promised you eternity.