The Glory and Shadows of God

Dear Wake Up Family:

Imagine seeing this painting by Caravaggio in 1600. The dramatic play of light and shadow is extraordinary. Living in the age of photography, 4k television, and streaming video, it is inconceivable to contemplate what it was like four hundred years ago. Back then, paintings and sculptures were the only visual media that depicted human forms. Looking at the detail in this work must have been shocking for people of that time.

Caravaggio pioneered the technique of using light contrasted with shadows to focus attention on certain elements of his images. The intensity of his paintings is still unmatched in the art world. Even today, the essence of the art and meaning of the word photography is the ability to control and finesse light.

The painting, Call of St. Matthew, is my favorite. It portrays the moment Jesus called Matthew to become his disciple. Matthew 9:9 says, “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9) In scripture, Matthew appears to react instantly; Caravaggio, however, inserts a moment of hesitation into his painting, amplifying a moment of indecision. How human it is for us to hesitate when God calls. Exodus 3 and 4 recount Moses’ reluctance to accept the call of God; he fearfully protested through two whole chapters before he returned to Egypt, yet look at what God accomplished through him!

Sometimes God’s way of revealing himself to man is done in shadows because shadows create interest and invite investigation, just as in the painting. When Moses asked to see God, “The Lord replied, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you… But you may not look directly at [the light of] my face, for no one may see me and live.’ The Lord continued, ‘Look, stand near me on this rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the [shadows of the] crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.’ ” (Exodus 33:19–22)

Another example of God using shadows is when Israel left Egypt during the Exodus. Moses says, “They [the neighboring countries] have already heard [and believe] that you, O LORD, are with these people and that you, O LORD, have been seen face to face, that your cloud [shade] stays over them, and that you go before them in a pillar of cloud by day.” (Numbers 4:14)

Still another example of shadows is when Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “ ‘Why do you use parables [to obscure the meaning of what you are saying] when you talk to the people?’ He replied, ‘You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. That is why I use these parables, For they look, but they don’t really see. They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand. This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says, “When you hear what I say, you will not understand. When you see what I do, you will not comprehend. For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes—so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to me and let me heal them.” ’ ” (Matthew 13:10–15)

When we prayerfully look into the ways of God, we begin to see the depth and breadth of wisdom, love, and interest God has in mankind. God has created the most amazing way to reveal what He is like. Sometimes it is through direct light and sometimes hidden shadows, but to discover and know God in the fullest sense requires a careful investigation of both. God is not thwarted because of man’s hesitation. He has plans and ways of doing things of which we know nothing. Matthew wrote of Jesus, “The people who [once] sat in darkness [now] have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light [of eternal life] has shined.” (Matthew 4:16)

Rex Johnson

Rex Johnson

Rex Johnson

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