Getting real

...on breaking teeth, broken hearts, and integrity.

As some of you may know, and those who don’t are about to find out, I am hugely inspired by the work of Caravaggio. His art is immediate, raw and passionate, it jumps off the canvas and down your throat; while other artists painted the classical form—perfect, aspirational, inspired by the great sculptors of the past—he painted real people with an abrupt and powerful urgency.

Dirt on fingernails, weather beaten faces. At the centre of this drunken brawler’s work was the message of the gospel; not men elevated to the form of God, but God taking the form of man. But this post isn’t really about art, this post is about what is real, what is fake, and what God looks for in us.

At the centre of this drunken brawler’s work was the message of the gospel; not men elevated to the form of God, but God taking the form of man.

What the great painter did was paint religious scenes in a very human way. In his brush work the characters of the bible come alive; they’re relatable, flawed and imperfect people like ourselves, but with an extraordinary calling.

It’s an all too common mistake for us to read the bible and divide the characters into inaccessible saints or unrelatable sinners and when we do so? We miss seeing ourselves in them, and learning the lessons they teach.

I’ve been thinking a lot this year on some key figures like David. David, the bible teaches us, was a man after God’s own heart.

He raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.
– Acts 13:22

David journeys between the heights of praise and the depths of despair; from fear and loathing in Adullam to dancing in rapturous, undignified, praise before the Ark of the Lord. But David? David had a heart after God’s own heart.

I honestly don’t think we would know what to make of him in the modern church; read the Psalms, and imagine your worship pastor saying this stuff. We’d be so thrilled as they celebrated the glory of God displayed across the heavens, but somewhat less sure of them when they knelt, tearfully, and whispered an appeal to God to smash the teeth of their enemies, avenge their foes, etc.

Yet David’s honesty doesn’t distance him from God, on the contrary, through his honesty and integrity he lives a life closer to God. One of the key reasons God could work in him—in his times as a shepherd, an outlaw, and ultimately a king—is that he walked with absolute honesty.

David struggles and celebrates and hurts and parties and bleeds because he’s a man, but he brings his feelings to God with integrity because he is one after God’s own heart. He knew how to worship, but also how to petition and how to lament.

It can be so easy to live our lives as though we need to put on a front, both to God and man; we can find ourselves walking on eggshells, as though our honesty would shock God, and would be seen as diminishing in the eyes of community.

When we open up our reality to God we make room for Him to show Himself within it; when we open up our reality to others, we create an opportunity for Him to show them His strength in our weakness.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Think of earthly friendships. If a friend won’t speak honestly with us, even if their intent is good, it hurts us more that they’re not being truthful than it would if they were just open. A lack of integrity is a relationship fracture line and if not mended it will cause problems.

I’m not advocating expressing every emotion we have to every person we meet, but where there is relationship there should also be honesty; it is a foundational building block of a strong relationship.

God doesn’t require perfection from us, but He does want our honesty. It demonstrates love to Him, benefits us, and gives a chance for those around us to see that we walk with truthfulness and that God displays His greatness within that.

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Detail of David with the head of Goliath by Michelangelo de Merisi da Caravaggio, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

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