Any artist should, with no difficulty, be able to tell you about the moment a blank canvas is perched before them. It stands boldly, almost daringly, in front of them – empty; bare; colourless; withholding endless possibilities – completely within the care and control of the artist.
Each flick of the wrist and stoke of the brush (or alternate tool for those in mixed media) will impart new meaning and richer depth to the image that is yet to take form. But now, lies before them only a clear slate; a tide-washed shoreline; a colourless horizon; a blank canvas.
Before the artist begins with their purposefully chosen base colour, they must first stretch and prime the canvas to prepare it for the layers that will be painted thereafter. The stretching process can be a tedious one, but it is a task so important that failure to impart upon it, puts the entire artwork at risk of damage and ruin; for if the canvas does not go through this process, the paint placed upon it is likely to crack or flake off, thus spoiling the finished work. The process of stretching gives the canvas dimensional stability.
Then comes the priming. This, in turn, may seem like a relatively dull and pointless task – to paint white an already blank canvas – but, much like the stretching of the canvas, it holds great importance. Laying a firm foundation for the paint that is to be placed above the base in due time, the process of priming ensures that any dirt, grit, imperfection or blemish on the canvas is wiped away and covered so that the surface is both clean and smooth for the coming colours.
When these foundations have been carefully laid, the artist can now start with their base colour. Still slowly, slowly, they can now work on forming the image they had in mind when (or settling on after) first setting out the canvas before them.
Even though the base has been set, there are still many layers to paint; many colours to mix; still shades and form and contours to bring forth from the void.
Yet, even then, there is much to be done. Only when the artist looks upon their work with a sense of accomplishment and fulfilment, do they etch in their signature and, lifting the brush up, say ‘it is done’.
I’ve often felt that my life is like a canvas on which God is painting an image. I have been stretched beyond comfort and washed clean repetitively by my Saviour’s merciful grace.
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been given new life. Much like a primed canvas, our past is erased and we become a ‘new creation’, able to bear the likeness and signature of our Creator, retain His light and colours and boldly proclaim and radiate them to the world.
Matthew 5:14 (MSG) puts it a little like this:
“You’re here to be the light, bringing out the God-colours in the world.”
How beautiful is that image? Through Jesus, we are the light in a dark work, here to bring out not a rose-tinted view of life, but the God-colours – original, pure and true; bold and bright; something of a symphony exploding into an array of colour and light, like fireworks.
God has been masterfully moulding and shaping us into the people He has called us to be – a people, designed by Him and for Him, set apart, bearing His image and fingerprints for all the world to see.
A scary thing about a blank canvas, though, is not knowing what to paint on it and not wanting to ruin the clear crisp whiteness of an untouched, unspoiled piece. Fortunately, when it comes to God as The Artist, we can rest assured that He doesn’t make mistakes.
Let me repeat: God doesn’t make mistakes. Period. Done. No exceptions.
Psalm 139:14 says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God’s “works are wonderful”. His works include you and I.
Psalm 139:16 goes on to say that
“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
That means those hardships, that abuse, those hidden addictions that you just can’t seem to break, that heart ache, the depression, those mistakes – all of it – happened for a reason and is part of a bigger plan; a bigger picture.
Sure, many may be learning curves or faults of our own, while others remain unforeseeable and unexplainable tragedies of loss and destruction and chaos, even despair; but it all holds purpose – sometimes just to strengthen our faith and force us to cling to Jesus despite what makes sense or what the world tells us is logical.
We forget that in the greatest pieces of art the world has ever seen, there is as much, if not more, darkness than light. It may be around the edges, or to highlight a contour or to show how bright the light is, but it is undoubtedly there. In the same way, the darkness in our lives is only the undertone of the light – the ashes before beauty; the dark before the dawn. Our Creator is still painting; the fullness of our pictures – the finished work – is not yet painted. But He isn’t done yet.
When Jesus hung upon the cross, in the darkest (and yet the most victorious) moment in history, having taken all sin upon Himself and about to give up His final breath, He said, “it is finished.” (John 19:30)
Our Creator isn’t yet done with painting our lives out as we live them (in many ways, we are still blank canvases waiting for our Creator to paint the next stroke), but how glorious to know that the best work in His final piece for us is finished!