I am an artist of some skill and moderate fame. I love to sculpt, make pictures out of tile, and do all manner of things that are classified as art. Most of all, however, I love to paint. I love to take up my brush and make still lifes of fruit, flowers, buildings, and anything else that will remain stationary long enough. I love to paint people setting their hands to various tasks like shopping, walking in the park, anything.
One day, not too long ago a strange notion struck me. I was reflecting on my childhood and the various courses my life has taken since then. What if, I thought, I painted a picture of my life. What would it look like? How would I do it? I decided to try my hand at putting this new idea into effect.
I went to my little studio and set up my easel. I set up my paints, all of them. I had no idea yet which colors I would use. I had decided that it would be an abstract picture of my life. It would be a combination of color and line, of beauty and sadness as all lives are. I first drew out a shade of red that was subtle yet quite noticeable. I new not why I had chosen this color, it just seemed like the right one with which to begin. I hoped as I began painting that perhaps this was the one work that would bring me to the height of my career. Would artists from all over the world come to see it? Would they make much of my skill and press me to paint more? I was not sure, but these thoughts spurred me on to paint with vigor and an intensity that rarely finds its way into my work.
I painted and painted throughout that entire day. I did not even stop to eat lunch. I almost did not remember to eat supper either. Late into the night I put down my brush and stepped back to survey my work. I could not hold back the gasp that came. The picture was absolutely horrid! It was blotchy in places, the colors did not mix well, and it even seemed that there were portions of the picture missing. How could this have happened? I had never painted something so awful in my entire life!
All at once, looking at that horrible painting, I was overcome with weariness. I could do no more that night so I covered the painting and locked up the studio. I took myself straight to bed, but sleep did not come easily. For what seemed like hours I tossed and turned trying to understand why that painting had turned out so awfully.
Finally, I drifted off into the sleep that only comes with exhaustion. I woke to the sound of a mocking bird greeting the day. Sun was coming in my large bedroom window. It was yet another day to rise and do my art. Then I remembered the painting. At first my heart sank, and then it lifted slightly. Perhaps new inspiration would strike me and I could remedy this horror of horrors.
I eagerly went out to my little studio and was surprised to no end to find that it was unlocked. What had happened? Had I had burglars in the night? I did not hear the muffled sounds until I had mustered my courage and opened the door. I listened, frightened and ready to run at the slightest provocation. Then I identified the sound. It was the sound of someone painting. It was not jerky and uncertain like an amateur, but sure and swift, though deliberate. Whoever this intruder was, he was a master at the art.
I stepped farther into the room to see who this person was. I left the door open so as to make way for an escape if need be. There was a man at my easel. He was concentrating very hard on whatever it was he was painting. Then I remembered that I had left my life painting on that easel. He was painting on my masterpiece! This angered me, though I knew that he could not do much to damage that horror.
Then I looked closer at the man. Somehow, my anger disappeared. There was something, maybe it was the way in which he stood, the way he seemed totally at home and at peace with painting, a thing that I myself loved dearly. Somehow, seeing this, I could not bring myself to be angry. I was still frightened, still bewildered, but not angry. I do not know how long I stood and watched him paint, but finally, he put down the brush and turned. When he saw me, he did not look surprised or try to run as I expected him to do. He looked as though he had known I was there all along.
"Who are you?" I asked after a moment.
"I Am," he replied and I expected him to say his name, but he did not.
"Why have you come here and what are you doing?" I demanded still timid.
"I was painting my picture" he answered, "Would you like to see it?"
Honestly I could not fathom him. Here he was, in my studio painting with my paints on the picture that I was trying to paint of my life, and he had the audacity to call it his. Why he even acted as though he had every right to be here and was no trespasser at all! I stepped forward and he stepped back so that I could see the canvas. I drew in my breath in wonder.
The sight that met my eyes was a thing of exquisite beauty. The colors were just so and there were even more than I had originally chosen. The lines and shapes flowed like water, perfectly, though with no definable pattern. Best of all, there was nothing missing. There was no place where the picture could be made more complete.
"It is too marvelous for words," I told the man as I turned to face Him.
"Why does that surprise you?" he asked.
"Why shouldn't it?" I returned, "Yesterday it was the most horrible thing I could have ever imagined painting.
"That is because you tried to paint a picture that it is not meant for you to paint."
"Not meant for me to paint?" I inquired.
What I did not say was, "And what gives you the right to paint my life if I cannot?"
As though he had read my unspoken accusation and were ignoring my spoken question, he raised his hand without saying a word. I stared at the hand, for a moment quite confused. It was a strong hand, more like a workmanís than a painterís. Then my eyes traveled up the wrist. He had held up his hand so that I could see both the front and the back. On his wrist were two scars, ragged and ugly, uglier than any I had ever seen. They looked as though someone had taken a giant nail and driven it straight through that hand.
When I realized what I was thinking, I fell to my knees weeping and saying, "Oh my God what have I done?"
As I knelt there weeping, he placed his hand on my shoulder.
Then he repeated his words from before, "You tried to paint a picture that is not yours to paint. You see, I Am the one who knows your life. I know you. I formed you and I saw you as you grew. I know the things you were thought when you did not know I was listening. I remember the things you have forgotten. And most of all, I know what will be in the years you have not yet lived. It is I who have designed the picture so it is I who must paint it. When you tried to paint it on your own, it was ugly and incomplete. But if you give me the brush, the picture will be more beautiful than you can imagine."
When he finished I was still weeping, though less than at first. He was right. I had taken upon myself a right that I had relinquished long ago at the knee of my grandfather. I had given my life to the one who died to purchase the right to paint my picture.
"Can you forgive me My Lord?" I asked him looking up.
"Yes," he answered, "I already have."
Then I opened my eyes to the sun streaming in through my bedroom window. I started up looking for Him, but I was the only one in the room. Feeling forgiven and renewed I readied myself for the day and went out to the studio. I took the ugly painting of the life that is God's and hung it on the wall. It would never be famous, but it was the best painting I had ever done, for through it, God taught me my most valuable lesson. He is The Painter and I am the painted.