Painting: City of Orphans (2 Chronicles 20:12)
This blog post is difficult to write; it’s hard to express with words the intense, heavy emotion poured into this painting. It’s one of my most emotionally raw pieces, and one of my favorite works I’ve done to date.
What originally inspired this painting was a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—a brilliant German pastor and theologian during the time of World War II. A key leader in the German church struggle, he fought hard for the purity of the church and against the Nazi regime. His life of was cut short, however, by his execution in a Nazi concentration camp at the age of 39, a mere two weeks before the war ended.
In a memorial speech for Dietrich, a friend of his kept repeating 2 Chronicles 20:12: We know not what to do, but we fix our eyes on Thee.
This moved me deeply in the wake of such a life, and such an end to a life. I though of the fiance Bonhoeffer left behind and her sorrow. Of his parents, having to bury their son. I thought of his own courage and faithful service in the midst of fire. So much sorrow, yet honor, sacrifice, and love. We know not what to do.
What can any of us do? I though about the desolation, injustice, and heartbreak that terrible, hellish war brought. We know not what to do. What of the women who lost their husbands, the husbands who lost their wives? The countless children orphaned, the millions who suffered unspeakable abuse? What of the innocent ones forced to witness gut-wrenching, unheard of evil?
We know not what to do, but we fix our eyes….
We are brought to the end of ourselves and our answers. We are forced to lean all of our hope into the God who we trust and believe is good and is working good even though the whole world seems covered black with darkness.
All of the questions and feelings formed a picture in my mind: a bombed out city, no people, no color. All grey and black and covered in shadow. A picture that illustrated desolation. The kind of desolation that causes us to throw ourselves at the mercy of God in desperate trust that, somehow, He is still good. We know not what to do, but we fix our eyes on Thee.
This painting was a long process. I started it months ago, but got distracted by commissions and other projects.
About a month ago, however, I decided it was time to finish it. I took it with me to the coffee shop and worked on it for four hours straight. There was nothing in the world except the painting and the music I was listening to; everything else faded to the background.
The song City of Orphans (by the Classic Crime) came on. I had forgotten the song existed, forgotten I had put it on my playlist.
It described a city where the orphans and the broken ones run away to; a place where darkness reigns and the broken ones turn to broken things to try and heal their broken hearts.
Is there a more apt picture of desolation? Families break apart and children are betrayed, abused, and abandoned. And these wounded children turn into broken adolescences and adults, still carrying their still bleeding wounds to whatever promises relief. Darkness piles on darkness. Instead of healing wounds, new ones are created. We walk around bleeding, trapped in our own sorrow, chasing every promise of love and truth, only to find out that this world is full of lies. And the broken ones break others and the cycle continues and never ends. Can it get any darker? Any more hopeless?
The song flooded me with deep, painful emotion—something familiar. It was the same feelings that I was attempting to pour into the painting.
With that, the painting took on an addition, deeper meaning. It wasn’t just a memorial to sorrow-filled lives and a dark period of history—not anymore. It is a mourning for the darkness all around—the blackest, most hopeless places. It expresses the desolation of a life broken, and the hopelessness of one lost in this world.
We know not what to do
For those in the black middle of the desolation, those outside whose hearts break for the ones inside, and those (like myself) caught somewhere in-between, there is hope.
We know not what to do, but we fix our eyes…
Ignoring brokenness doesn’t heal brokenness. We must allow ourselves to feel the weight of the darkness of this world and let it drive us sobbing to feet of Christ, clinging with every last ounce of strength to His promise that one day, it will all be made right. That one day this will all be worth it.