Last week, lovely Kate and I went on another cultural outing. However, rather than the ‘contemporary’ art of the Baltic Gallery, this time we went for something a bit more traditional, an exhibition of the Romantic artist John Martin, at the Laing Gallery, entitled ‘Heaven and Hell’.
John Martin is something of a local (being that he grew up in Northumberland, and did an apprenticeship in Newcastle), and is apparently famous for his paintings of Old Testament stories (although I hadn’t actually heard of him before).
It was a very interesting exhibit, with some stunning work on display, as well as a good amount of information about the artist himself, and the stories behind most of the work, which was helpful.
I’d like to mention a couple of the paintings we saw. I’m not sure that to call them ‘favourites’ would be the right word, because it seems a bit inappropriate bearing in mind the subject matter. But nevertheless, they were brilliant and moving.
A picture of Adam and Eve after they had been cast out of Eden. The darkness of the fallen world, with the couple hunched down, tiny in comparison to the dark rocks and clouds that loom above them as they walk away from the garden, which we see behind them, as bright light behind a crack in the rocks. The contrast between that glimpse of brightness and the desolate darkness is overwhelming,
A view of the end of this world. This was perhaps the most horrifying piece in the exhibition. It’s massive, towering above you as you walk into the room. At first glance the shape on the right of the picture looks like a mushroom cloud, but then on closer examination you realise that it’s actually a city, turned upside down. This tiny version of it doesn’t do it justice, so if you ever have the chance to see it in person, you should – it will take your breath away. Terrifying and awful, but brilliant.
The weird thing about Martin’s work was that, although the paintings of destruction were amazing and epic and beautiful, in their own dark way; any time he paints heaven he seems to miss the mark. Pale, insipid, and completely devoid of God.
Kate and I were talking as we looked at The Great Day of His Wrath, and wondering what impact it might have on people who don’t know Christ. Are they terrified?
And what about when they look at the pictures of heaven. Is it somewhere where they want to be?
The thing is, when I tell people the gospel, I don’t want to scare them with the threat of hell. I want to tell them the good news of the fact that Christ has died and risen again to make them God’s child.
I talk to students who have missed the point on this. They want a list of things that they have to do (or not do) to escape hell, but aren’t interested in having a personal relationship with the creator of all things.
Possibly because, like Martin, we’re a bit too good at painting vivid terrifying pictures of hell, and pretty rubbish at pointing them to Christ: God, stepped into history to bring them into a relationship.
What a challenge.
In summary: praying for the words to paint a better picture.