Remembering Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch post-impressionist painter and is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art. In the last 10 years of his life he created 2,100 works of art including 860 oil paintings. His most famous works include The Starry Night and Sunflowers. Vincent was a complex person who struggled with poor mental health and depression for much of his life. He was always poor and died tragically at the age of 37.

Vincent was a serious, quiet and thoughtful child. His father was a Dutch Reformed minister and Vincent developed a fervent faith and a passion for ministry. He wanted to study theology but failed the seminary entrance exam, so he became a missionary to coal miners in Belgium. In these impoverished communities Vincent lived a life of radical self-sacrifice and servanthood. He sold everything he had so he could care for the needs of the people.

Vincent was a very generous man. He understood the unconditional love of God and showed unconditional love for others. He would never recognise love that was not seen in actions. Despite his commitment to Christ-like sacrifice, Vincent was rejected by the church for being overzealous, and for his ineloquent speech and scruffy appearance. He suffered a nervous breakdown and struggled with depression for the rest of his life.

Vincent died in unusual circumstances in what was thought to be suicide, but he may have been accidentally shot by two boys who later made a statement admitting they were target shooting near where Vincent was found. As he lay dying Vincent told the police, “I’m hurt, but don’t blame anybody else.”

The Christian message is not about what God demands that we do, but about what he has done for us in Jesus. It offers hope to us all, however troubled our lives may be. One song sums it up well, “Upon a life I have not lived, upon a death I did not die; another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity. Not on the tears which I have shed, not on the sorrows I have known; another’s tears, another’s griefs, on these I rest, on these alone. O Jesus, Son of God, I build on what your cross has done for me; there both my death and life I read, my guilt, and pardon there I see. Lord, I believe; O deal with me, as one who has your Word believed! I take the gift, Lord, look on me, as one who has your gift received.”

The Inspiring Example of Eric Liddell

The Olympic Games is going well and many medals have already been won. Winning athletes have been ecstatic whilst others have sometimes been in despair. The pressure to win is very great. After 4 years of preparation, everything depends on the performance on the day and not everyone can succeed. The greater the expectation of success the greater the disappointment when you do not win a medal.

At the medal ceremonies for London 2012 the Chariots of Fire theme tune has been played. The tune reminds us of Eric Liddell, the “Flying Scotsman”, who competed for Great Britain in the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924. When the schedule for the heats of the 100 metres was announced, Eric realised that the first heat would be run on a Sunday. He was a Christian and always kept Sunday as a special day set apart to worship God and rest. He realised that he would not, therefore, be able to compete in his best event and quietly withdrew from the 100 metres. He began instead to train for the 400 metres in which he was not expected to win a medal.

When Eric was at the starting block for the 400 metres race an American man slipped a piece of paper into his hand with the words of 1 Samuel Chapter 2, verses 30 written on it, “ Those who honour me I will honour.” Eric won the race and broke the Olympic and world records. He also won a bronze medal in the 200 metres. Eric’s example of putting God first above everything else continues to inspire people today. Although he was as keen to win as any athlete competing in London 2012 he knew that honouring God was more important.

Eric was born in China in 1902, where his parents were missionaries. In 1925 he went to China as a missionary where he worked amongst poor people and proclaimed the good news of Jesus. In 1943, when the fighting between the Chinese army and the invading Japanese army was very fierce, he was interned at the Weihsien Internment Camp. Whilst in the camp Eric refused an offer to leave and gave his place instead to a pregnant woman. He died in the camp on 21 February 1945 from an inoperable brain tumour. His last words were, “It’s complete surrender.” He had gladly given his whole life to Jesus Christ, and has now received the ultimate victor’s crown which his Saviour won for him.