When you first decide that you want to be an artist you might pick up a “Paint by Numbers” kit. Each ‘painting ‘ is really a diagram full of many differently shaped and numbered spaces, each number representing a different color in your paint box. By religiously applying the correct color to each numbered shape it is possible for the budding ‘artist’ to create a colorful painting that should be a very closer rendering of the picture on the kit’s lid. If done carefully it could easily be hung on someone’s wall with little or no apology.
But with all due respect to those “Paint by Number” aficionados out there, it is not art; any more so than coloring in a coloring book is art or completing a jigsaw puzzle is art. It is a craft. And just as the completed puzzle needs to match the box lid, so the “Paint by Number” painting needs to replicate the next person’s attempt at the same picture. You are not allowed to paint outside of the lines.
To artfully paint a picture is exceedingly difficult for someone who does not have the eye for it (take this from one who has failed miserably in this regard). Skills are important (the craft part of painting) as well as technique. But to create a work of art requires vision as well as the ability to lose oneself in the painting, to become a part it, a creative act akin to love. The beauty of great painting is that it never is identical to another work and the visible outcome can get the ‘message’ across to different people in different ways.
I think the “Law” of the Old Testament is much like what we find in a “Paint by Numbers” set. The Laws are very important because they help us to paint a picture of what someone who loves God looks like. But it can be very trying to stay within the lines and at times we may even mistake one color for another. More often we end up painting a picture of ourselves, someone who has yet to realize a love (as opposed to a fear) of God. It is an attempt, through attention to detail, to create something worthy of being called Love.
On the other hand, a picture painted with Christ as inspiration may still have flaws of perspective but will not exhibit the structured choppiness of a ‘Paint by Numbers’ work. There will be a smoother blending of the colors, softer pastels may be used as well as bright primaries, all suffused with a light that only the Spirit can provide. The result is a unique and heartfelt work of art instead of the more commonplace attempt at making a rigid and orderly reproduction. The goal of every ‘Paint by Numbers’ picture is to look exactly like the next, whereas original productions will vary from artist to artist.
There is a lot to be said for this orderly and systematic way of developing the discipline for art; following instructions, holding the brush properly, laying down the paint and paying attention to the finer details. Hopefully learning to see the whole picture by not focusing on the many small parts. But at some point the fledgling artist will need to throw away the props and find the faith to start learning from the Teacher. God allows many canvases on which to make many mistakes and in the end we should be painting beautiful pictures with the goal of pleasing the Master.
As my friend Jason said, it’s like “The difference between looking at a Seurat from 10 millimeters or 10 meters.”