Painting by the Numbers

paint-by-number-bridge-2.jpg

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.”

covered bridge painting

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  1. #1 by ambrosia on November 17, 2007 - 12:10 am

    What I am saying, Oh great one, is that Jews are offended at Christians trying to claim grace, while convicting Jews under the law.

    Oh! Now you’ll run to the open-minded defense, as you tried above (with the reference to our common Dave).

    The point is that Jews look at the law as an open question–and for us to say “Grace”is a New Testament idea would be an error.

    Knowing you already know all this, O great One.

    Bruce

  2. #2 by ambrosia on November 17, 2007 - 12:14 am

    Oh–don’t ake he mistake of assuming most Jews are legalists?

    Your words,
    “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.” might lead a reader to think that’s what you are saying, O great One.

    Uh, having been raised by a non-legalistic Jews, and each day seeing the contrast between Jews who are bound to the law, and those, who like My Dad are not, I mite knoe a thung or tooo about the genre.

  3. #3 by Christian on November 17, 2007 - 12:39 am

    Well, O Contender, I see your point and I raise you. Who is bound by the law? My article is not addressed to Jews, but to Christians. Very few Jews (with the quasi exception of yourself) frequent this site. And very few Jews (that I have met) struggle over this issue of grace vs the law.

    That being said, I think that even a first century Jew might admit that there comes a point when one need not focus on the minutiae of the Law because they have finally come to a better understanding of God. As Abraham did. In fact, I think that might describe quite a few modern Jews (of the more devout variety)

    As far as Dave goes….who knows? I don’t think he is too terribly serious about this, do you? At least not based upon conversations I’ve had with him.

  4. #4 by ambrosia on November 17, 2007 - 1:33 am

    I don’t know. Have you read any first-century Jewish literature, other than the NT?

    I tried Josephus but did not get very far.

    Honestly? I believe that someone tainted our idea of Jews who did not convert to Christ, in order to condemn them. Who? I don’t know–however, the lines that have grown alongside Christianity seem to be bent on keeping the law, as were the Pharisees, or bent on scoffing at those who do.

  5. #5 by Christian on November 17, 2007 - 8:36 am

    My understanding (from a very bright young Jewish lady who is one of my son’s best friends) is that the ongoing and dynamic commentary on scriptures called midrash has given them a different perspective on the ‘law’. They are not quite so dogmatic about it, it doesn’t have quite the ‘crime and punishment’ coloring that we have given it. Their observations of laws, particularly those of the sabbath, are more signs of respect as well as a way for them to maintain their identity as a distinct people of God.

  6. #6 by brightshinyobject on November 17, 2007 - 9:32 am

    This is great where this conversation has gone.

    “however, the lines that have grown alongside Christianity seem to be bent on keeping the law, as were the Pharisees, or bent on scoffing at those who do.”

    I think you absolutely right, bruce.

    There has been an astonishing amount of work on this since WW2, the great majority of it being since about 1977. That year a guy named E.P. Sanders, released a book callled “Paul and Palestinian Judaism” in which he asserted that Luther had totally overread Medieval Catholic and 2nd Temple Jewish (Ezra to Titus sacking Jerusalem) parallels in matters of grace and law. Without question Luther’s assessment of Catholicism at the time was correct (and I would say, especially with Benedict’s reaffirmation fo Trent, continues to be theoretically right). He said that he found a pattern of expression called Covenantal Nomism, which he summarized as people entered into the Covenant by the grace of God (and so making an equation with a kind of temporal salvation, which is a strange concept) and they maintained their covenant status via what they did. Sanders felt that the eternal aspect was dealt with by God’s grace, but the ecclesiological aspects were dealt with by the person doing the works of the covenant. His point was, and continues to be, as you can see by the interview I linked to below, that grace was highly prominent in Judaism at the time of Christ.

    http://philosophyandscripture.org/Issue2-2/Sanders/Sanders.html

    Some people, especially defenders to the death of Luther, are throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this matter, choosing to not interact with the research being done on Dead Sea Scrolls, and the mountains of Jewish commentary on Scripture (like you said C, Midrash, Talmud, Etc.). Which is the same anti-intellectual error within what is generally referred to an fundamentalism (the word has come to mean as little as saying “Western culture”, in that, that differences between American and, for instance, French thought on any number of things are vast).

    This whole discussion now revolves what is called “The New Perspective on Paul” or NPP. There are very significant proponents of different varieties of it, NT Wright being the most well known, but, in addition to Sanders, there is also, James Dunn at Cambridge and Scott Hafemann here at my own school has a much more nuanced variety of it. I am about to receive a huge book called “Justification and Variegated Nomism, Volume 1, The Complexites of Second Temple Judaism” which dives very deeply into the literature of the time. DA Carson is the editor and the scholars he has assembled have come up with something for everyone in this matter and something against everyone is this matter.

    For instance, Sanders is absolutely right that Grace from Yahweh is primary and continues to be prominent. However, as in Josephus, there is a consisent summary of praxis within contemporary teachings that says something to the effect of “God will save those who are righteous, otherwise he would not be just.” Which is absolutely impossible to square with anything Paul says about the effect of Christ’s sacrifice. The idea of being saved while still in our sin is a constant drumbeat in Paul.

    To be fair to the Jews, I read a summary of debates regarding behavior on the Sabbath, which was really illustrative for me. They were trying to figure out how to be obedient, they were trying to figure out how to honor God as he had commanded in the fourth commandment. They weren’t sitting around debating how many angel can fit on the head of a pin, they were trying to make sure that thye weren’t dishonoring God. So on and on and on went the debate regarding what is work.

    Which, from what I have read so far, and in light of what we have all seen and experienced in matters of legalism, is illustrative of the human condition. The default of all other religions is “I do which results in my being accepted” The message of the Gospel is “I am accepted which results in my doing”. And these two ideas become very fuzzy sometimes, very chicken-or-the-egg. Christ’s rebukes in Matthew 23 have to stand as, yes a rebuke to the Pharisees who had lost the spirit of the law, but even more importantly, a rebuke to the don’t-drink-don’t-chew crowd who still teach Christian behaviorism. I think Paul’s repeated issues with this speak to the fact that we as people cannot stop our tendency to justify ourselves by doing, we see it throughly in legalsitic varieties of Christianity.

    Probably the best summary of the views, and a most reasonable amalgam of the “new” and “old” perspective is Stephen Westerholm’s book, “Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics”.

    This tendency towards legalism is why I never stop regarding the exclusivity of Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and how his Sacrifice and Resurrection are totally efficacious for his sheep. If Christ is the only way, then grace, not legalism, is our only hope.

  7. #7 by ambrosia on November 17, 2007 - 11:14 am

    Ah! My identity is revealed.

    Anyway, I heard this from a real person–she moved into a neighborhood with a large Jewish population. Orthodox Jews would pay people to perform particular petty tasks (and slap such deliberate alliteration) such as turning lights on and off, because the Orthodox Jews had a dilemma about doing any task on the Sabbath.

    You are also right in asserting that many Christian groups do the same thing. I have been in a couple of churches that practice inconsistent legalism, inventing ways to burden people with silly moral quirks (and I admit having the dilemma bug for many years).

    Ambrosia

  8. #8 by brightshinyobject on November 17, 2007 - 11:24 am

    Sorry, didn’t mean to out you. I pictured you a feisty Jewish woman, (with the name) about 5 foot nothing, but seeming about 6’3” when you spoke.

    “I admit having the dilemma bug for many years”

    I think one of the take aways from all that stuff I talked about is that we all have the bug and we always have to be diligent about it.

  9. #9 by Christian on November 17, 2007 - 11:53 am

    You can say that again. I was never more legalistic than when I tried to turn my back on legalism.

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