I did this in a bit of a screaming hurry back in March for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2012, and wasn’t surprised it didn’t get picked – impenetrable subject matter, bad caricatures done in the early hours and the improbability of an oversized cartoon taking up space on a gallery wall. I was so late I’d had to put the dimensions on the form before I started the picture.
It was my first attempt at something right out of my head in the manner of old religious figurative art, rather than sketching what I see, and was more difficult than I’d imagined. Quite rewarding though, so I’ll bore you with it.
The title is from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7, verses 13-14, and was provoked by repeatedly hearing Diana Johnson (MP), Giles Fraser and others going on about the Church of England being a ‘broad church’ that could be inclusive of all sorts of what used to be called sin and unfaithfulness.
Enter in through the narrow gate, for wide the gate and broad the way that leads to destruction, and many are they who enter in through it. For narrow the gate and straitened the way that leads to life, and they are few who find it.
Not a ringing endorsement of breadth in the route to life. That way is certainly open to all without exception, but Christians’ job has to be to point to the narrow gate and the strait way, turning people back from the destruction the Lord warns of again and again. This is prescriptive, but is only negative to those who think repentance is negative, or follow Freud rather than deny self and take up a cross.
So, the picture shows what to me personally is a chilling scene, but superficially pleasant. Destruction is on the horizon, through the gate at the top left, where the broad way leads. From Biblical prophecy I was going to put the budding fig tree in leaf, but given the arrogance of us Gentiles thinking that we are the people and wisdom will die with us, painted in the pruned olive tree from Romans (11:25) against the background of a cloud of judgment – visible enough to all, but the Lord’s clear warning in Luke (12:56) requires a response to what we see:
Hypocrites, you know how to judge the appearance of the earth and of the heaven; how is it that you do not discern this time?
Time is short. Jesus says that our competence in basic weather forecasting removes our excuses for not discerning how current evidence leads to an inevitable consequence. Luke goes on to mention the need to come to terms with an adverse party while we’re on the road, before matters get taken out of our hands, as the Bible teaches they one day will be. The gate, widened for easier access, symbolises a point of no return. Coming back from that along the way, past some confused souls and some picnickers who really don’t care, we reach poor Peter Tatchell being offered some pleasant ice creams wrapped in loving words torn from their Biblical context, by a certain almost recognisable clergyman. This action is essentially cruel, if what is happening is encouragement along a path of destruction, with no warning offered. Would those ice creams comfort in the hell of which Christ repeatedly spoke? Not a snowball’s chance.
The neighbouring tent is possibly the most attractive to the eye, and for all the wrong reasons – religion on show. The gold-clad Pope is peddling Ishtar as the Queen of Heaven – a concept spoken against in scripture (Jer 7 & 44), but brought back in the Roman church in Mary, robbing Christ of his unique focus with a fiction. There’s a Roman Vestal virgin on sale there too – striking in its similarity to pictures of Mary throughout the Uffizi. The great series on BBC4 ‘The Dark Ages: an Age of Light’ says it better than I could.
This tent is found in Luke 11:52 –
Woe unto you, the doctors of the law, for you have taken away the key of knowledge, yourselves have not entered in, and those who were entering in ye have hindered.
The whole set-up gets in the way of the narrow path to life, which heads diagonally off under a rather relaxed archbishop, who has resigned his mitre and rests his feet on some Darwinian and other books with his mouth tight shut, convinced we wouldn’t understand God. Lord Carey is there too, with one of his women priests as a bishop – how can he now stand using the argument for complementarity against gay marriage? Good for him on the latter, but his feet can’t be in great condition from when he shot them years ago, and he has the next argument standing beside him. In fact, while writing this, the news came out that the C of E’s House of Bishops has decided to allow openly gay men living in civil partnerships to be bishops – there goes the house of Bish-ups to perdition. If the slow-boiled frogs of the remaining consciences ever leave, the C of E will become as Christian as the Three Self movement – entirely politically acceptable.
Never mind that group of badly drawn politicians smashing up the landmarks – they don’t know any better, poor blighters.
What am I doing in all of this? Sitting on my backside like a lazy oik, playing with my laptop, and watching telly with my Bible in the grass. I count myself no better than any of the other obstacles lying around the picture – possibly worse given the teaching I’ve had over 31 years since I got my first Bible and sat down to read it.
Another reaction is happening behind me – a man digging a foxhole because he knows what’s coming. I’ve included him to make sure even the ‘non-denominationals’ don’t get away blameless. It’s not fair to say all Brethren men are like this, but I’ve grown up with this natural reaction to give up and head for a bunker, which takes some overcoming. However, that’s not the right reaction.
What’s the answer? I’ve been enjoying Cranmer’s blog recently – his stand for so much common sense is an enormous refreshment, but despite his considerable wit, one can’t help thinking that even he will be faced with a choice of joining Jesus as Lord outside the camp of the established Church, or denying his Lordship by seeking to stay within it. Church politics is just stirring an inky pot hoping for clear water – whatever the denomination.
My little girl stands in front of the answer – a neglected narrow door, looking up at it, and how I pray she enters in as a little child, like everyone in the picture could. In John (10:9), Jesus said,
I am the door: if any one enter in by me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and shall go out and shall find pasture.
This was a message that was designed to be grasped by children and was entrusted to fishermen to spread. It’s simply that we each must have a personal transaction with Jesus Christ, where he takes our sins and we believe he died for them, and we regard his death and resurrection as ours and live for him as dead to sin. We have no access to God or relationship with Christ except on the basis he proposes.
Let’s bend whatever power we’re given to help each other back on the narrow way and ask the Lord for help to stay in it.
Click here for a simple gospel outline.