Claude Monet: The Three Poplars

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands

Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

Psalm 19: 1-4

People always say, “Well I would believe in God if only I could see Him.” Perhaps the problem is not God’s visibility, but one’s sight. God is certainly manifest in His world. His signature is on his painting, just like a Monet. Did you see God today? Sure you did. You just might not have recognized Him. We tend to neglect the things that are familiar. We begin to pass them by without reflection. Those things like the sun, moon and stars. They are there every day, so we cease to marvel at them. But King David in the Psalms says these things “proclaim God” just as surely as if God were speaking.

All great artists emulate the master artist, and Monet is no exception. He is famous for his impressionistic paintings of water lilies. I want to speak here of a series of twenty four paintings he did of poplars on the banks of the river Epte. He painted them from spring to fall in 1891. What astonishes me is that Monet said that “each poplar painting represented only seven minutes of the day: when the light left a certain leaf, he would take out the next canvas and work on that.” 1   What this reflects is that God’s glory is so great that you could spend your entire lifetime as an artist capturing it. Monet was someone who could see that God’s canvas changed during the day with the shifting of the light. He understood that poplars were amazing and he wanted to show us how their beauty changed as the glory of the blazing sun moved over it.

Claude Monet - Three Poplars
Claude Monet - Three Poplars

I am not saying Monet was a man who saw God. I am saying he is a man who captured some of God’s glory, the way God was speaking through sunlight on poplars one afternoon along the banks of the river Epte in the fall of 1891. When you look at Monet’s paintings can you see God? He is there in vibrant hue.

1. Cunningham, Antonia, Essential Impressionists (Bath, UK: Paragon Publishing, 2000) 66.

Faith, Fortune Cookies and Woody Allen

Let me start by saying I don’t admire Woody Allen. He has made some terrible decisions in his personal life. Yet there are two things I can say for him. One, is that he is quite funny. Two, is that he is a man who has really wrestled with the big questions of life, even if he hasn’t answered them yet. Those two things make him intriguing. He has a new movie coming out which is going to explore the concept of having “faith in something.” He feels, bleak though it may sound, that we need to have some “delusions” to keep us going. He feels that people who delude themselves are happier.  So he explained that he felt there was “no real difference between a fortune teller, or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They are all equally valid or invalid really. And equally helpful.”

I wanted to explore that concept a bit. So I went out and bought a package of fortune cookies and opened every one. What I want to do is to compare a fortune with a proverb from the Bible. The Proverbs are always a fascination for me. I like anything that is pithy. The Proverbs are like cold water in the face and I like truth that smacks me straight up. What amazes me about the Proverbs is their ability to tell a profound truth in one or two simple sentences. I stand in awe of them. Most people can’t spit out a profound truth if you give them a page let alone a sentence. Let’s try a comparison:

Fortune: “A special moment lies ahead.”

Proverb: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Now I can’t tell you for sure if a special moment lies ahead. I can tell you though if you get into an argument at the airline counter with the clerk and she gives you an angry response, if you apply the proverb you will diffuse the situation. Wise men always diffuse, foolish men stir up. If you give a harsh word I can guarantee that a special moment lies ahead, and that is your special moment of getting a smack down.

Fortune: “You have good ideas to share with others.”

Proverb: “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Proverbs 18:2

Don’t get me wrong. Maybe you do have some good ideas to share with others. Then again maybe you don’t. The overriding wisdom here is the focus on understanding. One cannot understand a matter unless one is listening. Fools don’t listen, they talk. They interrupt. They air. They share. They delight in hearing their own voice. It’s music to their ears, and usually theirs alone. The older I get, the more I realize it is better to be a man who listens than a man who talks. In order to share a good idea, one has to understand a situation first.

Fortune: “Others are deeply moved by your presence.”

Proverb: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”  Proverbs 20:5

If others are moved by your presence it might be a compliment or it may mean you need to change your deodorant. It’s hard to say. To really move a man, you have to be able to touch his heart. Can you do that? The heart is deep. I love how King David puts it in the Psalms “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls.” (Psalm 42:7) God man mankind complex and the depths of our souls cry out to Him. Because our hearts deceive us, we cannot always understand what we purpose by them. Someone who is a man of understanding can sit down and listen to us and draw deep things out of us. He can help us see our own heart better. That is the art of truly moving a man deeply by your presence. It can only be done if you have humility, wisdom and love. It cannot be done simply by a piece of paper telling you that you do so.

Fortune: Good common sense makes you smart.

Proverb: “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.” Proverbs 4:7

There are many, many smart people out there. I marvel at the brains some people have been given. Yet many, many smart people are very unwise. Smart and wise are not synonymous. There are very few wise people. It is true that the Proverbs display “common sense.” However, they allow you to discern much more than that. Wisdom is the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting. It is having great insight. King Solomon supposedly had more insight and understanding than the sand on the shore. I can’t imagine it. Wisdom is only found by fearing God, because wisdom comes from God.

Smart people know they are not smart enough to figure out life by themselves. They acknowledge there is truth and they seek it. There faith is placed in the wisdom God has laid out about how to live in the universe He made. They understand there is a vast difference between a fortune in a fortune cookie and a truth contained in a Proverb. Allen is right about one thing: we need to have faith in something. We need to have faith in God. Where he errs is presuming that all options are equally valid or invalid (since we are all deluding ourselves). The problem with wisdom is not that men don’t intuitively understand that it is superior. The problem with wisdom is that men have to acknowledge they are inferior in order to receive it.