From childhood, I have known that I think differently than most of the people I’ve met and befriended in life. I didn’t really know what to attribute it to – until I began meeting others who think like me. Then I knew what it is: I think like an artist. Artists – the type that paint pictures – tend to think both visually and creatively.
Each profession demands a certain type of thinking. Physicists don’t think like grammarians, and grammarians don’t usually think like horticulturalists. Artists tend to think about the aesthetics of things: the way colors work with each other, the way objects relate to each other and the way light affects everything. We think about design, composition, perspective and rendering techniques. When we create a composition on canvas, we ask of it, “What’s going on here? What’s happening? What’s the dynamic?” We want to know, and depict, how the elements of our picture relate to each other. What do we want them to “say” to the viewer?
Artists, like most professions these days, are divided into a myriad of specialties and approaches. My wife, Lorraine, is an artist. Her emphasis is on color. She prefers pastels and hot pinks. She applies this color sensitivity to flower portraits – the only subject she paints. Lorraine has a strong sense of aesthetics. The appearance of everything is important to her. Colors must work well together. One of my nicknames for her is “Mrs. Go-with.” When we go shopping, she carries color chips around with her in her purse.
My color sense is different from hers. I like grays, monochromatic approaches, and occasional “color surprise.” I prefer earth colors and muted blues, greens and umber tones. My emphasis is more on light than on color. In painting, I prefer a somewhat tonalistic approach. This way of thinking lends itself to landscape and seascape painting, not so much to florals.
Landscape as a stage set
When I paint a landscape, I tend to view it like a theatrical artist would view a stage set. It’s like a stage on which something is happening – some drama is being played out. It might be a situation involving predator and prey; or hunter and hunted; or man and machinery. It could be a weather event, or a geologic happening. The point is something is happening on the stage of my landscape or seascape. Often, I prefer to leave the “set” empty of anything but light and natural elements – trees, mountains, water, clouds etc. There is a certain glory in the pristine solitude of nature for its own sake. I really don’t like to glorify the relationship between predator and prey. I don’t care for what man has sometimes done to the earth. Nor do I enjoy man’s inhumanity to man, so my paintings never include battle scenes or Goya-like depictions of war, firing squads, tortures, and rapes (i.e. the celebrated “Rape of the Sabine Women”). To date, I have never painted to send political messages, except, perhaps, one: the Earth is a beautiful Creation of the greatest Artist of all – so let’s keep it that way. Let’s celebrate the handiwork of God rather than denigrating it. Let’s live in harmony with nature rather than contrary to it.
We’ve heard the lyrics to the song that say, “All the world is a stage.” It is. Daily dramas are unfolding on sections of that stage. God placed actors on different parts of the global landscape, or stage. We read in Genesis: “…the nations spread out over the earth after the flood,” (Genesis 10: 32b). Following the Tower of Babel incident, God “scattered them from there all over the earth…” (Genesis 11:9b). Paul adds the idea that God “determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26).
God then handed the human actors upon the vast global landscape an improvisational “script”: “…so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him though he is not very far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring,” (Acts 17:27-28).
Divine Hide & Seek
God then is the Creator of the stage, the sets, the actors, and the script. All of the players on the stage are his children. They are assigned to improvise in the process of seeking him as he hides, just out of sight, but close by. The whole thing is a “construct” that God has given man to develop his potential, to help him find his Creator. It is an acted-out game of, among other things, hide & seek.
As the human drama unfolds on life’s global stage, the players learn lessons as they go. Each situation creates the next improvisation. At birth, we enter life’s stage; at death we “exit stage left,” having played out our roles as children, adults, parents, grandparents, heroes, villains, workers, hunters, soldiers, religious fanatics, or whatever. At the end of the drama, we may or may not have sought, or found, God. Everything we shall have done will have been done on the basis of choice – action and reaction.
Under the Sun
In landscape and seascape painting, there is usually only one light source: the sun, or the moon. My favorite Old Testament book, Ecclesiastes, often speaks of things happening “under the sun” (i.e. Eccl. 6:1). The sun lights the divine stage by day, the moon, with its reflected light by night. Both good and evil take place day and night on planet earth. People do evil when they believe they can get away with it. John wrote, in reference to the Messiah as “Light”: “…men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil,” (John 3:19b).
The Brisky Analogy
Darkness may hide some evil deeds from other players on the stage, but not from The Director. Nothing is hidden from God. Some years ago, my wife and I owned a delightful golden retriever named “Brisky.” He loved to play hide & seek with us. We’d go out into the back yard with him and a tennis ball. We sit down in our deck chairs and one of us would say to the dog, “Wanna play hide & seek?” He’d wag his feathery golden tail enthusiastically and run up to the head of the yard and hide behind our big pine tree. He thought we couldn’t see him – you know, like a little boy who puts his hands over his eyes and says, “You can’t see me!” Problem with Brisky was that his butt and tail stuck out at the back, and his nose protruded at the front — and the tail was going a mile a minute.
Then we’d say, “Okay, find the ball!” Brisky would lunge out of his “hiding” place, and come charging down to our end of the yard where the ball was hidden. He’d run around from place to place, looking for the ball, tail still wagging vigorously. When he found it, he’d proudly present it to us like he’d just achieved something worthy of the Congressional Medal of Honor. Then he’d head for his tree again to await a repeat performance.
God loves to play hide & seek with his children. Problem is: we children are often reluctant participants in the game. We tend to lose awareness that such a game is in play. Or, we spend most of our time “hiding” from God while our rear ends are fully exposed.
In the divine game of hide & seek, God sometimes hides from us: “Truly you are a God that hides himself,” wrote Isaiah (45:15). Because God is invisible (Col. 1:15), we sometimes mistakenly assume that he’s not there. Yet, in the creation God has left us clues and evidences for his existence: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse,” (Romans 1:20). The creation itself gives evidence of intelligent design – that there was indeed a creator. As the Psalmist wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God: the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” (Psalm 19:1).
When I look out upon a landscape, I see the products of an intelligent process. The Creator has provided abundant evidence of his existence in the incredible complexity and interrelatedness of the elements in his creation. All of the carefully designed parts work together in a symphonic harmony.
Yet, despite this overwhelming evidence of a Creator, much of the human creation tends to deny that any divine intelligence brought it into being. It would rather believe that it is the end process of a random chain of unguided evolutionary events directed by no one. We mistakenly assume that because God is out of sight he must not exist. Wrong! When my dog hid behind the tree, I didn’t begin to doubt his existence. He’d left me too much evidence of it: his nose and his vigorously wagging tail! God too, though hiding, has left in his creation an abundance of evidence of his existence. We can see his “wagging tail” everywhere – if we’re willing to look for it.
God’s game of hide & seek has an end in mind: for man to find the hiding One. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” (Psalm 53:1). In denying the existence of God, we deny that there is any overarching moral authority in the universe. Therefore, we are free to do what we choose on an individual, humanistic, basis: They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good” (Psalm 53:1b).
For man to look upon the land and deny that its invisible creator exists, is to open a door of darkness upon the sunlit scene of divine handiwork. It is to misunderstand the divine game: “God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God,” (Psalm 53:2). God is looking for those who will strive to understand the divine game and participate in it – those whose faith will continue to leap in the direction of the evidence until they find him. The hiding, invisible, God wants to be found!
The Bible is chock full of passages in which God invites man to seek him. God even told Israel that they could still find him in captivity – in the Diaspora – if they would be whole hearted in their seeking (Deuteronomy 4:29). Speaking of Israel, God once said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land,” (II Chronicles 7:14). The hiding God responds to those who aggressively seek him.
Tommy Tenney writes, “God doesn’t really care about anything you can ‘do’ for Him; He only cares about your answer to one question: ‘Do you want Me?’”(The God Chasers, p. 11). If we truly want God, we will actively, relentlessly, seek him.
The quest for God is not an effort to study his person in a science lab to determine what his “properties” are. It is a quest for relationship, for intimacy. Tevya, in “Fiddler on the Roof,” knew God. He had a relationship with him. He talked to him all day long. “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan,” he asked, “if I were a wealthy man?” When we have an intimate relationship with God, we too can talk to him like that. He’s “Abba” – “Daddy.”
When I’m sitting in a shady spot in nature, away from civilization, sketching a scene, I feel closer to God than when I’m driving on a congested, smog-laden, LA freeway. In nature, I feel like a minor scribe of God’s creation.
Having written all this, it is important to remember that the relationship God seeks with us is more than a mere game. It is the stuff of life, and it involves a way of life. A great Jewish religious philosopher addressed this when he wrote: “Revelation is not an act of his seeking, but of his being sought after, an act of God’s search for man. The prophet did not grope for God. God’s search of man, not man’s quest for God, was conceived to have been the main event of Israel’s history. This is at the core of all Biblical thoughts: God is not a being detached from man to be sought after, but a power that seeks, pursues and calls upon man. The way to God is a way of God. Israel’s religion originated in the initiative of God rather than in the efforts of man. It was not an invention of man but a creation of God; not a product of civilization, but a realm of its own. Man would not have known Him if He had not approached man. God’s relation to man precedes man’s relation to Him,” (God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism by Abraham Joshua Heschel, p. 198.)
God has sought out man from Eden to eternity. He initiated the game. He gave us the rules (his Torah or “Instruction”). At first He revealed Himself, then, because of sin, He hid Himself. Now he appeals to us to seek repentantly with the promise that if we do, we’ll find Him (Matthew 7:7). It was sin that caused God to hide himself, and it is repentance that will cause him to reveal himself. I refer again to II Chronicles 7:14, quoted above.
Upon the broad landscape of the earth, under the sun, a great game is being played out. It is a game of hide & seek. God, as Director, calls upon each of us to play a role in the divine drama. We can choose whether to be a hero or a villain. We are free to select the realm of light, or that of darkness. The script is improvisational – we make it up as we go. What happens on the earth’s stage is the product of choices and decisions made by the players. It’s a moveable feast of moral alternatives. Each action generates a reaction. Domino effects ripple across the landscape, changing everything.
When Japan decided to bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 2300 Americans died, 19 U.S. ships were sunk or damaged, and the next day the U.S. declared war on Japan. Three days after that, the US declared war on Germany and Italy. It was action and reaction. Japan, Germany and Italy were the aggressors. The driving philosophy behind their murderous acts was Nazism, or Fascism. The evil, and the victim’s reaction to it, changed the course of history. The players on life’s stage took on new roles and played them out to the end.
In our time, a new and equally virulent evil has appeared: Islamo-Fascism. Like the fascists and Nazis before it, it too attacks the innocent. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists flew two hijacked airliners, fully loaded with passengers, into the twin towers of the U.S. Trade Center in New York City. A third hijacked plane flew into the Pentagon and a fourth, diverted from its intended course, crashed in a Pennsylvania field. It was another date that will live in infamy. More than 3000 people, innocently going about their business, died for no good reason. Families were shattered. Police and firefighters died in rescue attempts. New York City, one of the “sets” on life’s stage, was left with a permanent architectural reminder that every generation of mankind seems consigned to battle some form of evil. Once it was Nazism and Fascism. Then it was communism. Today it is Jihad.
Again the course of history has been changed. The War on Terrorism began in earnest. It will be with us perhaps for generations to come. Either we defeat the Jihadists, or they defeat us. This enemy cannot be appeased, reasoned with, negotiated with, or cajoled into changing the theology or ideology that drives it. It must simply be defeated at every turn. The lead players in the West will have to find the moral courage, the righteous indignation, and the sense of outrage, to vigorously pursue this demonic enemy to the ends of the earth and beyond if necessary. Any perceived weakness on our part will be exploited. Any withdrawal will be viewed as a victory by the Jihadists.
The world’s stage has become a global war zone. It features the Jihadists versus everyone else. What’s going on under the sun these days is ugly, destructive and Satanic. If the evil is allowed to grow, it will poison the planet. If the milquetoast Left in America can get over its Chamberlain-like need to appease evil, the West could rise in formidable power to defeat this malevolent enemy. No enemy could stand against a truly united, United States. What’s that old saying, “United we stand, divided we fall”? And what of Jesus’ own words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The United States is polarized between Right and Left. The Jihadists view this as an advantage for them. They know our internal divisiveness weakens us. What the Left doesn’t realize is that it is being played as a “useful idiot” – but when the time comes, the Jihadists will be just as enthusiastic about murdering leftists as those on the right.
The same is true for Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s new communist dictator. Right now he’s cozying up to Ahmadinejad, Iran’s fanatical leader — but only because they both have a common enemy, the United States. This is in keeping with the old adage, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Should the US be defeated by the Jihadists, they would turn on Chavez in a moment – whenever they decide to target South America for the imposition of Shariah law.
All this drama is playing out on life’s stage, under God’s sun, and God is watching from above. Each war, each retreat or defeat, and each victory, is the result of a decision someone in power – that is, someone in a lead role – has made. God has given us freedom of choice, and life as it unfolds on earth’s stage is the sum of our choices – good or bad.
God gave us a beautiful global “set” to act out our improvisational drama. He gave us the freedom to be as creative as we want to be. His Torah – Instruction – is available to us if we want to act out our parts in accordance with it. Or we can choose to ignore it and do what we’re doing now – making a gigantic, global, mess. In his day, around 55 AD, the apostle Paul looked at the world around him and commented:
“…We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is upon their lips.’ Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’ Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes,” (Romans 3:9b – 18).
Paul cobbled together verses from the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah to create that picture of the human condition in his day. It is of course full of generalities. Yet, even today it accurately depicts what is going on, on earth’s stage, under the sun. Man is his own worst enemy. He is the enabler of Satan who preys on human sin, as he has from the beginning. Darkness feeds upon darkness and grows. No one is wholly righteous. We are all guilty of sins of commission, or omission. Our world is full of lies, liars and false witnesses. Deceit is omnipresent. Violence breeds violence and the world descends into a cauldron of its own blood. The end result is misery, heartache and destruction. It’s the script mankind has chosen to act out on the stage of the world. We could have chosen a different Script – one that involved seeking God and learning to live his way, but under the influence of a malevolent dark force, we chose this ugly and destructive script.
That’s why my landscapes are devoid of images of man. I don’t like what man is doing to fellow man, to the planet, or to the creatures God put under his charge. So long as “ruin and misery” mark man’s ways, there’s no place for him in my paintings. It also helps me to understand just why God hides Himself. We have besmirched the beautiful “set” God created for man to act out the divine drama. We have elevated bad actors to lead roles and persecuted, marginalized and murdered the few heroes of history. Goodness is on the run, and evil is in hot pursuit. (Evil is as evil does.) When one tyrant bites the dust, a dozen more rise to replace him.
The world has become a vast insane asylum run by its inmates — hardly a subject to be glorified in art.