You all know the piece. Creepy pastel. Ghostly image. You can feel the anxiety when you look at it. Blood red and orange background. Swirly confusion.
This week Edvard Munch’s The Scream became the most valuable painting ever sold at auction. It reached nearly $120 million dollars. That price is more than all of the RPCNA’s combined annual budget- I checked! The total annual budget of ALL RPCNA congregations is 10 times LESS than what this painting sold for (check the Minutes of Synod for evidence).
Why should you care that The Scream sold for $120,000,000? I mean, why should a Christian care that a creepy pastel of a wavy anxious man sold for more money than most of us will see in a lifetime of toil and sweat?
The fact is that The Scream is symbolic of the plight of man. The artist himself described in his diary what led to this pastel’s creation. He wrote, “I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.”
This experience of der schrei der natur led to Munch producing four versions of this pastel and a host of lithographs. The anxiety felt was repeated over and over again in the studio of the artist. And that same anxiety is repeated every day and every hour in the homes of our neighbors, co-workers, and communities.
As Christians, we have the answers for which Munch was looking. We have the answers that can calm the anxieties which are bi-products of a hopeless worldview. As reformed Christians which have a robust kingdom theology we have an alternative to Munch’s overpriced creepy pastel- the answer to der schrei der natur. We can encourage those around us to put off the angst that this world brings and to seek a kingdom that has conquered the ‘infinite scream passing through nature.’
Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25-33)”
The Scream has been noted to be the second most recognizable piece of art in the world. What teenager has not seen it on a t-shirt of a friend, a spiral notebook, or a poster? What employee has not seen it on a coffee mug or a mouse pad? It’s recognizable because the whole world relates to the ‘shriek of nature’.
As a Christian, you have the special privilege to tell those around you, “You know that painting, The Scream? Let me tell you how Jesus would respond to that scene.” And you can say that because Jesus DID respond to the ‘cry of nature’ – and that response was in building a kingdom of peace through his violent and vicarious death on the cross. Let Munch’s overpriced pastel point you towards the Kingdom of Peace and it’s Prince. The world knows angst- at the cost of $120 million. Point them to Jesus who gives peace that passes all understanding.