Death Becomes Us

This week, I visited the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. I’ve taught art history to over 1,000 students at Pacific Union College over the years, and while I find meaning in many forms of visual culture, I particularly enjoy sharing the color field work of Mark Rothko. It can seem too simple after weeks of the obvious richness of the Renaissance and the later early revolutions of modernism, but after showing how the artist evolved, I just tell my students to pause in front of the larger-than-life works by Rothko and just breathe. 

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The Old Testament does not have (as is claimed by this week’s Bible Study Guide) a single perspective on death that is in complete agreement with Jesus’ teaching. Earlier passages routinely view death as oblivion and spilt innocent blood demanded justice. Isaiah sings a new song, where death (on the industrial scale of the exile) offers an opportunity for God’s power to surprise. Isaiah’s motif of waking from the ground is echoed by Daniel. I wonder if the catalyst for this change was the stories of Elijah and Elisha where resurrections and translation opened the possibility that death was not so final.
When the aim of the lesson is apologetics rather than enquiry, we are denied the beauty of the shifting conversation between God and people.

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