Friday, 2 December 2011

The Gospel Is Obvious When You See It

Most Australians have seen Frederick McCubbin's 1904 painting, The Pioneers. Even though I have seen this painting thousands of times, it wasn't until today that I actually saw it. And I was deeply moved. If I was a proud man (and unfortunately I am, so this upcoming confession is very difficult for me) I would claim that this fresh vision of this iconic Australian painting was due to my cultured eye for detail. But alas, I can make no such claim. This painting was interpreted for me by someone who wrote about it just two years after it was painted. This cultured art connoisseur was the man whom my daughter asked this after afternoon as she looked at an original photo of him in my office, "Was F.W. Boreham born old?"

McCubbin's painting is in three sections. The first section has a young wife pining for her former life. Perhaps, and probably, this was England. In the background, her husband is seen near their covered wagon lighting a fire at the base of a blue-gum tree. This iconic young woman is emblematic of the sacrifice that thousands of such women made in pioneering Australia. Pioneering is tough, lonely, and taxing. Many of these early female pioneers experienced madness in this face of this. McCubbin captures this with this opening scene.

The second scene has the husband resting on a log. Axe nearby. His young wife is now a mother as the wistful baby's arm is flopped over the should of its mother reveals. In the background of this scene is not their wagon, but their cabin. These pioneers were making progress! But still there must have been a high price to pay. These pioneers were sacrificing for sake of future generations.

But there is a cost that is more painful than self-sacrificing. Consider Abraham, says F.W. Boreham, who would have gladly taken the place of his beloved son Isaac as they ventured up the mount of sacrifice. Consider the cost that Jephthah paid as he bid his daughter farewell (Judges 11). Sacrifice costs dearly.

In the third scene, we see through the cleared bush, in the far distance, an emerging town. But in the foreground we see the husband kneeling at the foot of her grave. It is a poignant scene. It catches a pain that is greater than that of self-sacrificing. The pain of being the cause of someone else's sacrifice! Abraham nearly felt it. Jephthah did. God the Father did.
"The pioneer ! It is by such sacrifices that these broad Australian lands of ours have been consecrated. Oh, the brave, brave women of our Australian bush ! We have heard, even in Tasmania, of their losing their reason through sheer loneliness ; and too often they have sunk into their graves with only a man to act as nurse and doctor and minister and grave-digger all in one.
F.W. Boreham, "THE PIONEER", Mountains In The Mist, pages 76-77
F.W. Boreham points out to his readers that this iconic Australian painting was actually a picture of the Gospel! In the same way that the Father's sacrifice was equal to, if not greater, than any sacrifice ever made.

"I used to think that the finest thing on earth was self-sacrifice. It was a great mistake. This picture of the 'The Pioneer' reminds me that there is a form of sacrifice compared with which self-sacrifice is a very tame affair. I say that the picture reminds me ; for it was the Bible that taught me of that sacrifice supreme." (page 77)

Boreham saw in this famous Australian painting the message of the Gospel. A message of not mere self-sacrifice for the benefit of others, but a sacrifice that goes beyond personal cost. Boreham saw this as typical of God's sending His Son to die for us. This was the genius of F.W.Boreham. He looked at everyday, ordinary things, and well-known pieces of art, and interpreted them for his audience in a way that could see what they previously did not see - but was there all along. He had a way of seeing the Gospel in trees, paint, art, literature, theatre and history.

During the upcoming movie release frenzy season, consider what Boreham did and look for the Gospel in these stories. You'll probably see it once you start looking for it. This is because, as Winkie Pratney points out, the Gospel is THE story from which all other stories take their cue. When you see feint traces of THE story in the books, movies, art or nature, help others to see it as well. That, don't just be a consumer of culture, be an interpreter of it. Of course Boreham was not the first to master this. The great cross-cultural missionary from Tarsus did the same thing when he entered Athens when he interpreted a monument and a 'pagan' poem for his culturally-aware audience. In a Biblically illiterate culture, we may find that we need to do this more and more.
Father, help us to see the Gospel. Help us to see the Gospel story of You as Creator, Rescuer, Redeemer, Resurrector, and Righteous Judge, in art/literature/nature. May we have the grace and wisdom to share this interpretation of our culture with those we know and care for, in Jesus' Name, Amen.
Eph. 3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ps. Andrew

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