The Portrait

As far as I can tell, the link between the arts, faith, and God has been present from the very creation of the earth. As a believer, I am imbued with the idea that God is the master artist, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.Genesis 1:1 (NIV), and we are His marvelous works, “We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.Isaiah 64:8 (NIV).

The Scriptures are rife with creative art. The Old Testament descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant and the ornate trappings of Solomon’s temple come to mind as examples. The allusion that God is The Master Artist is common in our music and literature.  C.S. Lewis reminds us, in The Problem of Pain, “We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” In his contemporary Christian hit, Fingerprints of God, Steven Curtis Chapman clearly expounds on the concept of God as an artistic creator,

Never has there been and never again
Will there be another you
Fashioned by God's hand
And perfectly planned
To be just who you are
And what He's been creating
Since the first beat of your heart
Is a living breathing priceless work of art and...

I can see the fingerprints of God
When I look at you
I can see the fingerprints of God
And I know it's true
You're a masterpiece
That all creation quietly applauds
And you're covered with the fingerprints of God.

Without doubt, one could spend years culling the examples which can be found and not exhaust the supply.

As I consider the artwork that is my own life, I can’t help but wonder about my portrait. If I were to die today, how would others describe it? I have a certain amount of faith that most who know me would describe it in more glowing terms than I might do so myself. Certainly, there will be a few who might feel it is an ugly portrait, their perceptions affected by times I try to grab the brush from The Master’s hand and paint the canvas myself. I imagine the resulting strokes are garish, composed of intense and clashing colors. How does the portrait look in those times when I might not be trying to grab the brush from The Master, but I ignore His work? How does the portrait look when I give in to The Master’s will and allow Him to paint without interference? How do the events of my life, the one that started after I woke up on February 5, 2011 – the day I lost my best friend, Sara, and our daughter, Miranda – affect the portrait? I take a deep breath, and pause, as I consider I may have to wait a long time to see the finished piece.

Sara J Cole, Self-PortraitIn late 2011, while sorting through some of Sara’s things, I found a self-portrait she started painting while she was in college. For quite some time, this self-portrait was sitting out where I could see it every day. It was on display in my dining room, where I was able to look at it every time I walked from the front of the house to the back. I remember my first thought, upon finding it, was, “This is so Sara.” Most people would look at it and immediately think, or notice, it is just “not done.” The parts that are “finished” showcase her developing eye for, and use of, color and her attention to detail. It also showcases her penchant for starting projects…then letting them sit, unfinished, until she was ready to see them finished. I remember she would get this painting out, from time to time, and paint a little more, then a little more, and then a little more. There was no rush to finish or “get it done.”

The self-portrait does, in some ways reflect who she was as a person. There are bright and happy colors; indicative of the joy she brought to all who knew her. There are also some darker colors, calm and quiet, which also represent her daily demeanor. She was quiet but had a smile and laugh that could win over new friends easily.

As I consider this portrait and the life I knew for over 15 years, I find the portrait to be a statement of life from the perspective of my faith. In Psalm 139:16, the Psalmist declares, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV) In the book Through A Season of Grief, Dr. Louis Palau shares, "The Bible clearly teaches that a brief life is not an incomplete life. We have our ideas of how long we should live, but the Bible says that every one of our days was written in God's book before they even happened.” You and I may look at Sara and Miranda’s lives as incomplete portraits…but, in God’s eyes, they are exactly as He knew they would be. To be clear, I don’t believe this means their lives were as He planned them to be…they were as He knew they would be. That may not sound like much of a difference to some people; to others, it may sound like a huge difference. I find myself having to believe that God’s knowledge of their days, and deaths, doesn’t have to align with His plan for their lives. I believe that God planned on Sara and Miranda living full and complete lives; "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV). I choose to believe it was the chaos of sin and death, brought into this world by the choice of man, which interrupted His plan, stealing them from this earth, and allowing them to enter into His Glory, albeit prematurely.

I understand I may be treading in some deep theological waters here, and it’s highly likely that I’m floundering and simply in desperate need of someone to toss me a spiritual life preserver; however, I have to believe…I choose to believe…that the portrait of their lives is “complete.” As I continue to move through this life, I will try to take these words from Pastor Donald R. Smith, shared in his sermon series The God of the Whirlwind: God's Supremacy in Job's Trials, to heart, “As we face an uncertain future, we who trust in God through faith in Christ, know God is good and His providence is good, regardless of what He allows to enter our lives. He will remain good no matter how dark the night and how great the pain. Everything serves God’s holy and perfect purposes.” The portraits of Sara and Miranda may appear unfinished, or incomplete, but I feel privileged to have been included in the brush strokes.

*Note - this essay is based on a blog post from January 30, 2012. It is planned to be used as part of the Sara J Cole Memorial Portrait Award.

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