Tag Archives: van Gogh

Christianity on the Gogh

This was my pastor’s Easter letter this year. Clicking on the image ought to bring up a larger version.

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The Missing Door

In the introduction of Michael Card’s book The Hidden Face of God, there is a revealing story of Vincent van Gogh, the famous artist of the 19th Century.
Van Gogh had once felt called to the ministry, but had never been able to pass the theological entrance exams. Instead, van Gogh opted for a more incarnational ministry… among the coal miners in a small town in Belgium.
Bit by bit, over a three-month period, Card writes, van Gogh served God by reaching out to these poorest of the poor. In fact, he followed Jesus’ admonition to the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Paycheck by paycheck, as van Gogh saw more and more need, he gave away just about everything.
Card then writes “So completely did he reflect the sacrificial simplicity of Jesus that he became known as ‘the Christ of the coal mines.’”
“But those in the church who had authority over him did not feel this extravagance was appropriate, and he was eventually dismissed. It was a failure that hounded him for the rest of his life,” Card writes.
Throughout the rest of his life, even as he discovered a ‘ministry’ of expressing himself through art, van Gogh struggled with a sense of failure… even though we now recognize he was a genius! He felt like a reject… and felt the church was the one who had rejected him. He no longer felt he could turn to the church for strength or support… and became estranged from the Lord of the Church as well… Jesus Himself becomes a stranger to this one who had once emulated him so completely.
Card then draws attention to the last church painting van Gogh ever made, not long before his death: the Church at Auvers. Card writes:

“What many art critics have commented on is not the swimming colors but the ominous lack of a doorway leading into the church. Vincent painted a church that no one could get into. Having tried all his life to work hard enough to ‘get in,’ it appears that he could not imagine, in this last image of the church, a door that might allow him, with his enormous load of pain, to enter in…. Together with the scarcity of references to Jesus in his last letters, the absence of the door in the painting reveals his most fundamental fear: that there is no way into the church and, even more agonizing, that there is no One waiting on the other side of the missing door.” (pp. 12-13)

Vincent van Gogh died on July 27, 1890, as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds from a suicide attempt two days earlier. His brother, Theo, was with him when he died, and reported Vincent’s last words were, translated: “the sadness will last forever.”

How many times do we, today’s church, share our opinions and our thoughts about the way someone else is doing their job in serving Christ? How many of those times are we alienating those very ones who love Christ and are trying to serve him? How many end up like Vincent van Gogh… carrying an overwhelming load of pain and feeling abandoned by Christ and the Church?
No small wonder that the author of Hebrews writes: “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)
Not everyone will agree with the way everyone else does stuff… not even in the church. But we can make sure that constantly show God’s love and compassion by encouraging one another… so that no one ever sees us as a church without a door.
Who can you encourage today?
(This was my pastor’s letter for the August 2008 edition of our church’s newsletter: The Sound of the Trumpet)

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