Friday, October 14, 2011

Isaiah 1:16-18

“They Shall be as White as Snow,” Oil on Panel, 18”x24”

Isaiah 1:16-18 says:
16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
This scripture is one of Isaiah’s most beautiful promises about the nature of Christ’s atonement. The promise in vs. 18 that our sins can “be as white as snow” is beautifully written. However, since it’s often quoted without its context, it’s also easy to overlook the prerequisites* in vs. 16-17.

I wasn’t surprised by the requirements to be clean, to quit doing evil, and to do well. Nor was I surprised by the importance of relieving the oppressed or pleading for the widow. I think most everybody knows we need to cultivate mercy for those less fortunate in order to be a true Christian. But verse 17 also explains another prerequisite for our ability to reach our highest eternal potential—a principle that surprised me so much and sparked so much study, that I did a painting focusing solely on this point.

When I read that we must “seek judgment” and “judge the fatherless,” at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I first noticed that the original Hebrew could also be interpreted to say, “seek justice” and “give a just verdict to the fatherless” but that didn’t necessarily make it any clearer. After some studying, though, I realized that judging right from wrong is becoming so difficult in our world today, that Isaiah is teaching something critical: we must learn to balance justice with mercy if we truly want to help those in need. Correctly discerning how to act in order to be the most helpful and effective for others—both in our personal efforts (i.e. families and neighborhoods) and our collective efforts (i.e. churches and governments), is of supreme importance. Isaiah even seems to suggest it is vital to our becoming "perfect, even as [our] Father which is in heaven is perfect," (Matt 5:48) and therefore directly affects our potential.

This theme not only appears in Chapter 1 of Isaiah, but also in many other places. Chapter 59, especially, is very insightful for further study on the topic of justice and judgment. But why do you think Isaiah stresses learning to judge correctly? How can we learn to judge correctly?

Although I will write occasional articles on this subject in the future, I will leave the burden of further study, as well as interpretation of the symbolism in this painting, up to you. Here is a great article on "Judge Not" and Judging to whet your appetite. Also, here are a few questions to get you started as you look into the symbolism within the painting:
  • What do the red robe and white garment symbolize?
  • Is she willingly removing the robe? Or is she clutching it, reluctant to let it go? Which one is your inclination with your own “red robes”?
  • What is she doing to balance the crooked scale? What do you do when you are learning to judge as the Lord judges?
  • Has she just glanced up to look at the light, or has she been focused on it for some time? What is your inclination when you are learning to be the best Christian you can be?
  • What is it like when you are feeling inspiration? (I originally thought about putting a dove—a common symbol of the Holy Spirit—in the center of the source of light. But I replaced it with something that is closer to my own experience). How would you depict your spiritual insights in a strictly visual medium if you were an artist?
  • How do you think our society today has strayed from a balance between justice and mercy? What are you doing to stand for what is right?
I hope you enjoy your pondering and your research of Isaiah’s principle of justice as much as I enjoyed mine. Through it, I have come to take as much comfort in God’s justice as I take in His mercy. Yes, justice is truly a wonderful principle.

2011Res: To Matt: I am sorry you finally came down with the flu that the rest of us had. I love that you keep marching forward even when you are sick. To Heidi: today I savored you saying, with the greatest sense of urgency, "Yummy! YUMMY! Yummmmmiessss!" before we started breakfast. To Brynn: today I savored your incessant requests for new food--things you never eat. Yes, you must be feeling much better after surgery! Dear Mr H: today I made life as comfortable as possible for you when you got home from your business trip, so you could recover from your flu.

*I realize the idea of God's grace having "prerequisites" touches on the doctrine of grace and works that few Christian congregations can agree on. Mormons are often accused of not believing in grace and focusing solely on works, but I think these explanations from members of our church are very insightful as to my true feelings. As always, I respect your opinion if it is different than mine!


Alyson said...

It's gorgeous. You know The Ensign regularly features fine art like this, but until this blog post, I never realized what a spiritual journey such paintings are for the authors. Naive I know; every craftsman (writer, potter, quilter, etc.) must do a lot of work before they begin their craft. But since I have no talent in this area, I'd never thought of art as an area of learning/research/doing. Know what I mean? So not only is the painting lovely, but it's an education for me as well. Thanks for that. And for a reminder of the prerequisites! Too often just verse 18 is quoted or memorized. The previous two cast it in a different light.

Anna said...

Amazing in every way!

Unknown said...

Natalie -
Absolutely amazing! I instantly teared up when the web page opened. Thank you for being such an inspiration!

Michael, Justine, and the Girls! said...

It's beautiful and amazingly insightful! Thank you so much for sharing your talent. I look forward to seeing the rest of the series.

k said...

I'm speechless at your gifts of art and written expression. Thank you so much for sharing your project on the blog.

The Lingo Family said...

WOW!!!! Thank you for this.

Natalie said...

@Alyson: To be honest, I didn't realize the prep work either. I'll never look at other paintings the same again!

@ Everyone else: Thanks for your compliments!

Kirsten said...

Natalie, you're amazing! As an artist and as a person. This is beautiful and moving. Thank you for creating it and sharing your spiritual insights. I can hardly wait to see the rest of your collection in the years to come