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Faith That is Steadfast

Most everyone knows the name, Vincent Van Gogh. But how many know about Van Gogh’s abiding faith in Christ?  Both Van Gogh’s father and grandfather were pastors in the Dutch Reformed Church. Van Gogh aspired to follow the same calling. From his childhood, he suffered from depression and a kind of schizophrenia that manifest itself in fevered “excess de zele” behavior (meaning that he often acted with excessive zeal).

For three years van Gogh single-mindedly pursued his calling to the ministry. He was first a student of theology and then a missionary to Belgian coal miners. He was completely overwhelmed by the poverty in which the miners’ families lived.  As a result, Van Gogh gave all his possessions, including most of his clothing, to the miners. Van Gogh admired Christ’s humility as a common laborer and “man of sorrows” whose life he tried to imitate.

An inspector of the Evangelization Council of the Dutch Reformed Church concluded that Van Gogh’s condition of sometimes showing erratic behavior and zeal bordered on the scandalous.  He reported Vincent’s behavior to church authorities. Although Van Gogh was successful in his ministry, the hierarchy of the Dutch Reformed Church rejected him, and at the end of 1879 he left the church, embittered and impoverished. “I wish they would only take me as I am,” he said in a letter to Theo, his brother.

While he grew embittered with the lack of compassion by the church leaders, Van Gogh did not abandon God as the church had abandoned him. He wrote,” I think it a splendid saying of Victor Hugo’s, ‘Religions pass away, but God remains’.

His younger brother, Theo, was an art dealer. Theo agreed to sponsor Vincent as a painter until his brother could get on his feet, but sadly, Vincent never did. Vincent became his curse and burden for the rest of his life. Vincent’s paintings seldom sold and so Theo took the unfailing responsibility of being his brother’s keeper.  “I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed”, wrote Van Gogh to Theo.

Vincent described Jesus as “the supreme artist, more of an artist than all others, disdaining marble and clay and color, working in the living flesh.” Because of his illness, Vincent was never accepted by society. Yet Vincent, in his remarkable letters, never stepped away from his connection with the Lord. In one of his letters, he wrote, “One cannot do better than to hold onto the thought of God through everything under all circumstances, at all places, at all times, and try to acquire more knowledge about Him, which one can do from the Bible as well as from all other things.”

In a world where we are disheartened sometimes by established religious institutions, we shouldn’t give up on the holiness and love found in God.

The Dutch Reform church may have rejected Vincent Van Gogh, but Vincent and his brother, Theo, also a follower of Jesus, never did lose their deep and abiding faith in Jesus.  Vincent van Gogh  died at the age of 37, Theo Van Gogh died 6 months later at the age of 33.  (