NASHVILLE—A few years ago, when my youngest son Jonathan was in high school, I came home and found him painting in our garage. As usual, he was covered in paint, as were several large canvases.
I noticed a smaller one that looked like an abstract painting. The colors and shapes were kind of cool, but really random. This was not like Jonathan’s other work (which usually featured seascapes, cityscapes, flowers, or musical instruments). Curious, but trying to be encouraging, I said: “This is an interesting one. What is this supposed to be?”
Jonathan laughed: “Dad, that’s not a painting. That’s my palette. That’s where I mix paint colors.”
It’s interesting how similar, yet radically different, paintings and palettes are.
In this case, both were made from the same substance (wood and canvas), and both were covered in oil paint. However, one was destined for an art gallery and the other was destined for the trash. One would be purchased and displayed in someone’s home for many years, and the other would be kept in the garage for a few weeks until a new palette was needed.
One was a result of an artist’s creative intention. The other was an accident—a random combination of drips and smears of paint.
Every human being in every time and every place has grappled with some form of this question: Is my life the result of divine creative intention, or am I an accident? Did a transcendent being will my existence? Or did I simply come into being by a series of exceptionally unlikely chemical and evolutionary processes?
Am I a human being made in the image of God, full of dignity, meaning, and purpose? Or am I simply an accidental collection of atoms and cells with no more objective value and purpose than an ant, a tree, or even a rock?
Am I a painting or a palette?
Is my life beautiful, meaningful, and valuable, or does it just appear to be so?
Questions like these loom large in our culture—especially on days when we hear the tragic news of yet another celebrity suicide. Last week, it was Kate Spade, the fashion designer, and Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef, television star, and Filipino food connoisseur. Rising suicide rates not only afflict the rich and famous, but also everyday people who live and work among us. Every year, more than 800,000 take their lives around the world.
Why are so many people willing to take their own lives?
The factors behind every suicide are always complex and difficult to untangle, but could it be that many people in our culture have come to believe that their lives are more like a palette than a painting? Could it be that we have begun to see our beauty, meaning, and value as subjective and ephemeral rather than objective and eternal?
If, in the grand scheme of things, our lives are as accidental and purposeless as Jonathan’s palettes, then what does it matter, someone might think, if I take my life?
If we see our lives as a palette, then suicide is only tragic in a small, subjective sense. It is tragic for those who valued the person—friends, family, etc. But, with this thinking, it is not tragic in any cosmic, objective sense. However, if we believe that every human life is God’s masterpiece, then suicide is tragic in both the subjective and the objective sense. Friends and family are grieved, yes. But even more, God, the one who made each one of us, is grieved.
If our lives are God’s paintings, then no one takes greater pleasure in us than the one who made us. It doesn’t matter if we think we’ve ruined our lives; it doesn’t matter if those around us don’t see our value; it doesn’t matter if we struggle to find purpose and meaning. The God who made us loves us and has a great purpose for each one of us.
If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, please don’t struggle alone—talk to your pastor, pray with a friend, seek professional help. And finally, remember that you are created in God’s image for His purpose, and no matter what you have done or what has been done to you, He loves you.