My wife & I went to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, KY recently, and saw this painting as soon as we entered the first gallery. This is The Expulsion of Hagar by Cristoforo Savolini.
Or is it?
It’s obviously incomplete. You can see where forms are supposed to go, where Abram’s incomplete leg was supposed to be, but the painting is obviously lacking in a lot of its intended content. Where is the background? What time of day is it? We have no context for this painting. Sure it was painted in 1675, but are they in Canaan, London or Amsterdam? Rome, maybe? Is this set in Abram’s time, in Savolini’s? A lot of the cues that tell us that this is a complete painting are sorely lacking.
So is it a painting?
We can see that an artist was at work, right? We can definitely see that skill was used to complete what has been done so far, so it meets the expectation for quality on that front. We can see hints of what’s intended for the remainder of the human forms through the sketching on the base coat, so the future intent can be interpreted, not to say that our minds don’t go ahead and start filling in the gap a little on their anyway.
So, can implied meaning complete a painting? I can visualize the tent door flung open behind Abram as he’s pressing Hagar and Ishmael out of the home. I can picture a rolled rug or mat tucked in the corner, a basket, maybe a chicken running out of the way, maybe even a palm in the distance behind Ishmael. But even with my imagination employed, is this a painting?
I have to say “Yes, it is.”
Well, I see lots of things every day that are incomplete, or that are still under repair, or being worked on, but work to be done doesn’t make that thing less of itself. It is what it is, but it is in a state of repair or work. There are two men in my house right now who are removing tile from an old bathroom and who will, by tomorrow, take that little room through varying stages of demolition, construction and completion. But the room is still a bathroom. There is a sink, a shower and a toilet. The purpose of the room isn’t changing, it isn’t being changed into a different type of room. So it was built to be a bathroom, it is being remodeled as a bathroom and it will continue to be a bathroom after they are done. Status in progress doesn’t change intent or purpose.
This is the same for us who are in Christ.
When we come to Christ, from the very first moment of our redemption, we belong to Him. We are being shaped, sanctified, and matured into someone who looks more and more like Jesus every day. We are a Christian when we make the decision to follow Jesus, when we come out the baptistry and when we begin our very first Bible study. In five years, when we are steadily involved in local ministry, serving on a team, reaching out to our neighbors, leading others in prayer and bringing people to Christ just like we were, we are still His, still Christians. We are simply in a different state with Christ than when we began.
So many times I have talked with people who expressed some kind of concern that translates into a feeling that maybe they didn’t really know what they were doing when they came to Jesus, like they were too immature to really grasp what it was they were doing at the time, and so they have discounted their conversion experience. But here’s the deal, starting your very first step in the rhythm of grace and knowing the dance by heart don’t change the fact that you are doing that dance, hand in hand with God. You are taking the steps with Jesus at the lead, you are in progress with Him.
Grace was needed when we came to Jesus, and grace will continue to be needed as we walk with Him and we will continue to rely on grace until the day we meet Him face to face and we finally are complete in Him. Walking in such a way that doubts that grace, its effectiveness or the work of God is an attitude that works against faith. We must accept that God has adopted us, and that while we are a work in progress, an unfinished work in Christ, we will one day find our perfection in Him, even if it is after our life has ended. We are His, we are Christ-followers, a people in transition even while we are a people who are secure. This is grace at work in us, over time, every day.
So, is it okay to look at ourselves as an unfinished work? Sure. Absolutely. But we must also realize that Christ has already done the work to see that effort in us brought to its completion. Abram is a figure on a canvas, it was up to Savolini to see him finished. Human effort will always come up short, we cannot complete ourselves. But Christ’s handiwork will see us brought around to where He desires us to be in His timing. We must simply walk in faith, trusting Him and trusting His process.
We’re a masterpiece in progress.
Enjoy watching the Master at work in you, one brush stroke at a time.