1 John declares that “God is love.”
The word "love" in the English language can mean many different things, but in Greek - the original language of the New Testament - the word in use describes a preference (or choice) of charitable intent. It thus presents God’s identity as being rooted in generous action.
The mystery of the creator willfully becoming vulnerable within his own creation can be best understood in the context of generosity. Jesus is the fullest expression of God’s giving self.
This painting series illuminates the phased embodiment of that revelation.
**Click on any image for a closer look**
The incarnation of Christ is the miraculous pin-point insertion of the creator's person into history. God becomes one of us and so affirms the value of humanity and his commitment to redeeming the world.
It is often declared that we are made in God’s image. Incredibly, scripture declares that he has also molded himself into our image. In Christ, God finds eternal manifestation in human form. It is common to hear from the pulpit that people ought to find their identity in God's love, but it is less often articulated that God’s own nature – his identity in Christ – is an expression of love for humankind.
How comforting to know that the Son of Man has cast his lot with us.
In the darkness of the tomb, Christ's body is infused with the light of creation. He is remade, still embodied in human form, yet now without the limitation of our frailty. His outward condition now matches the purity of his inward being.
The Son of Man overcomes sin and its consequences. He condemns death, overpowering it through righteous sacrifice. He has obtained that which was abandoned by humanity, through obedience to his father.
He is a new creation, the firstborn of the redeemed.
In the same way that an arrow’s trajectory may be off-target from the moment of its release, so our inescapable, natural state leads to painful and destructive estrangements in our lives. The cost of sin is known to all of us; our consciences confirm its existence. Pain, loneliness, and death lay witness to its power in our lives. We have seen how the world falls short and how we fall short within it.
The Son of Man came to suffer with us, though he was without sin. He was interrogated, accused, tried, humiliated, and tortured in public repudiation of his relationship with the Creator. Despite the pain, Jesus refused to deny his relationship to his heavenly father or to us.
God makes people to commune in partnership with him and each other as the intended beneficiaries of his gracious blessing.
The book of Genesis tells the story of that making, our willful rejection of God’s framework for life, and the subsequent collapse of our relationships with him, his creation, other people, and ourselves.
The meta-narrative of scripture is God’s relentless work to restore that which was lost in Eden. The story leads us through God’s revelatory relationship with the patriarchs, the establishment of the ancient kingdom of Israel, the declaration of a coming savior through the prophets, and long-awaited arrival of the messiah.
In the baptism of Jesus, God's affirms the position of his beloved son and his ministry of reconciliation.
The Son of Man was lifted high for all to see, fully exposing the shame of our sin. People called for Jesus to come down from his cross, mocking him for his choice to identify with us. Our hatred for Jesus' humility betrays a self-contempt for our own brokenness.
Yet, the power of the cross cannot be extinguished. It is the greatest of mysteries, transcending all corruption, political contrivance, personal failing, and malevolent act. In the cross, God's greatest creative work is achieved, inverting the destructive reality of our sin and transforming it into a source of eternal life.
Like all of us, the Son of Man was susceptible to death. He came in human form and under horrific abuse and stress, he ultimately succumbed to the restrictions of our common human fragility.
In murdering Jesus, we deny his testimony. In denying his testimony, we choose a series of lies: that the maker has no claim over us, that human fragility is worthy of condemnation, and that there is no hope beyond this life.
Those who loved Jesus from the foot of his cross see their hope extinguished. Their beloved savior is dead.
"He descended into the dead."
The Apostles' Creed has been recited by those who follow Jesus since the second century. It states that at the point of death, Christ was separated from his body and the world. He fell into a place wholly unknown to the living, reserved for the dead.
Here the Son of Man's divine and holy nature is found immune to the sentence prescribed for humanity. His presence disrupts the established order; his life, submersed into death, proves irrepressibly buoyant.
The disciples witness the Son of Man lifted once again - this time in direct contrast to the shame of the cross. In glorified form, Jesus ascends and disappears into the heavens. He returns to his rightful place beside his heavenly father.
Henceforth, his disciples will bear witness to the “good news” that Jesus has created a new way for humanity to be reconciled to God. Faith, a gift from God, is to trust his work and follow his way.
The impartation of Christ's spirit into the body of the his multi-cultural and revolutionary church is the instrument of his work on earth until his promised return.
Jesus will come again. He will appear as glorified king within the context of a new creation at the end of time.
As righteous judge, he will display mercy and justice in equal measure, honoring the will of his father. Every knee will bow at his name. Every word spoken, every desire of the heart, all the actions of each person will be laid bare.
To those who believe in him, who call on his name, he will give eternal life. They cannot be pulled out of his saving grip. Unalterable grace is their inheritance. They will be made like him, through forgiveness and renewal. To those that suffer for him, he promises to wipe away their tears and mend their wounds. All of creation will be transformed according to its original purpose.
The Son of Man will be united with his people.
ABOUT THE SERIES
Art history, much less world history, cannot be separated from the story of Christianity. While one can argue over the many negative aspects of the church’s political history, the collective world impact of those who follow Christ is undeniable. This impact is quite remarkable considering the root of the tree. At first glance, one would think that Christ’s message of love and non-violence would have easily been extinguished through oppressive politic. A tiny sect in Palestine begun thousands of years ago, made up of those who placed their faith in a man who had no writings of his own, who was poor, born in a remote part of a small nation, and whose short life came to a miserable end on a cross - this story would seemingly have no hope of affecting history. Yet, the gospel of Jesus spread like wildfire across national borders and through cultures bringing together multitudes of united believers. Through this unlikely body no single individual has had more profound an impact on the history of our planet than Jesus of Nazareth.
The central belief of Christianity – that Christ was God made man, that he was crucified, died, was buried, and was raised from the dead – is clearly irrational. The dead do not rise. All lesser theological arguments aside, this is the fundamental question put before any who hear of Jesus’ story: was he resurrected? Was he the son of God? Through ages, billions of Christians have answered that question with a remarkably unified profession to the affirmative. The Christian says “yes” to the prospect of life beyond death, “yes” to the possibility of a creatively transcendent power available to the world through faith, and “yes” to those difficult questions which can only be answered through metaphysical means.
My favorite artists bring forth these spiritual questions in their work, even when the subject itself may appear on the surface to be ordinary or natural. Van Gogh painted fields, but his paintings were about human suffering and loneliness. Starry Night is less a treatment of an outdoor view than it is a view into his alienation. Good writers do the same: Don Quixote is less about a crazy man’s chivalrous misadventures and wanderings than it is a terrifying commentary on the human capacity for self delusion. Art which addresses openly humanity's spiritual side makes for some of the most powerful imagery. In Son of Man, I sought to bring forth mystical themes found in William Blake's work and conflate them with the abstracted, animalistic flesh of Francis Bacon.
Christian art, at its best, reflects the suffering Christ’s love for humanity. He did not come to the world to condemn it, rather to save it through carrying our cross. Like all art, Christian art can miss the mark. It can focus too literally on those things which do not matter. To fight over what Jesus looked like is to miss the point of his coming. His face is your face. His heart is your heart. There are no physical descriptions of Jesus in the gospels for good reason. Jesus’ image cannot be separated from your own. That is one of the great truths to be discovered within scripture: that each of us bears within us the image of Christ. By that image, all people possess intrinsic value no matter how the world may divide and denigrate us. One of the great Christian mysteries is that Christ is manifest in his church. If you want to "see" Jesus, you must be with his people.