The Painted Parable

[Today’s post is by Dr. Richard Exley, director of Richard Exley Ministries, conference and retreat speaker, pastor and author of 30 books including Living in Harmony and The Indescribable Gift, both published by New Leaf Press. In this post Dr. Exley notes offers a solution to the unconnectedness of life in the 21st century.] 

Dr. Richard Exley, author of Living in Harmony

Dr. Richard Exley, author of Living in Harmony

Several years ago Brenda and I were browsing in a subterranean flea market when my attention was drawn to an unusual painting. At first I couldn’t decide what it was that it was that so captivated me. The artist was good, but not great. His technique was just that – technique, nothing more. Still, I lingered, studying the painting…

Brenda had moved on, her attention drawn to something in another booth and now she was calling to me. I turend to go and then I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Although the picture was painted in great detail, every face was blank – every face was featureless! Finished, but faceless! How had I missed that?

My mind was whirling. This was more than just a painting, it was a message. The artist was trying to tell us something about himself, or maybe about us, and he did it the only way he knew how. He painted a parable.

Thinking about it now, I can only conclude that the painting was prophetic, giving us a glimpse of life in the 21st century. Of all the symbols he might have used to depict the lives we live, none is more accurate than the sad and eloquent anonymity he captured in the featureless faces in his painting. We are many things – we are restless, we are often angry, we are sometimes cruel, we are often in great pain, but surpassing all of this is our individual and collective anonymity. Utilizing email, instant messages, blogs and text messaging we manage the transfer of information faster than ever before, but we communicate less. We simply don’t talk to each other. We are rapidly becoming faceless people living among other faceless people.

Nor does anything depict the terrible reality of sin more accurately. Sin alienates us from each other even as it destroys us, leaving us empty and unfinished on the inside. Well might we identify with Cain who lamented, “…my punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold thou has driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth…” (Gen 4:14)

Paradoxically, this haunting emptiness, this alienation, is also our salvation. Our pain and emptiness, our homesickness of soul can call us back to God. If we can bring ourselves to embrace Him we will discover that He is an artist. That’s not an eraser in His hand, but a paintbrush. He doesn’t want to wipe out our individuality, turning us into some kind of dull “saintly” personality. Instead, He wants to release us to become the persons we were meant to be.

I like to think of God as a watercolor artist. My friend, Max Davis, says, “A watercolor work reflects every, and I mean every, single bit of contact the painter makes. Each stroke of the brush leaves an imprint just like each experience in this life leaves an imprint on us. You can’t hide anything or cover up in watercolor. You have to blend in the mistakes. You can’t undo them, so you use them to make the work stronger. Mistakes become part of its character – making it unique.”

Without Christ we are all part of that anonymous crowd – nameless, faceless people, lacking distinction and detail. But when we turn to Him, He fashions a masterpiece. He covers the canvas of our lives with the bright colors and intricate details of abundant life. He touches our mistakes, even our sins, with His grace and they become part of the finished product – a portrait of love.

My prayer: God, shape my life to Your liking. Fill the flat emptiness with the colors and details of Your choosing. Let the finished me be more Yours than mine. Amen.

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