In The Midst: A Reflection On Hope
In my recent hunt for inMission cover images, I re-discovered this painting. It hangs in the National Gallery in London, which is where I first encountered it. I’ve returned to the gallery a couple of times just to stand and look at this one painting. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea… but I love it!
At first, the picture looks pretty bleak – not particularly colourful, not especially interesting. But, on closer inspection, the scene and the story start to reveal themselves: the discarded crutches; the man sitting against the rock, praying in front of a crucifix; the trinity of trees mirroring the spires of the gothic cathedral that emerges through the gloom; the shoots of grass poking through the blanket of snow; the pink, orange glow of a new dawn. This is an image of hope.
The painting reminds me of the biblical story of Hagar, which we recently explored in church. Genesis 16 recounts how this Egyptian slave girl becomes embroiled in an ill-judged scheme to secure Abraham’s promised heir. At first reading, it is an uncomfortable episode: Hagar experiences abuse, ill treatment and rejection at the hands of God’s chosen ones. Looking more closely however, we see a beautiful story of God’s grace in the midst of despair.
In the space of just a few verses, we discover that God pursues Hagar – a mere ‘nobody’ in the context of our story; He calls her by name; He sees her; He hears her; He speaks to her, making promises about her future descendants. Ultimately, Hagar returns to Abraham’s household and her dignity is restored.
This is the way of hope. We witness it time and again throughout God’s dealing with His people. We see it in the stories that we celebrate at Advent and Christmas.
In the midst of darkness, God brings light. In the midst of turmoil, God brings peace. In the midst of suffering, God brings healing. Into the very heart of our brokenness, fear and pain, God brings himself… in our midst.
This is a truth for these times. This is our story. Let us cling to it and claim it. Let us share it and declare it.
Image: Caspar David Friedrich, ‘Winter Landscape’, c. 1811, Oil on canvas; London, The National Gallery
This reflection was first published in the recent edition of inMission magazine.