The Relationship Between Beauty And Pain

Do you know who this is?

After a childhood he described as “gloomy and cold and sterile,” he began his adult life with the desire to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a minister. He wanted to “sow the words of the Bible” to the poor and working-class people. So he pursued a theological education but was denied because he was a little strange and didn’t work well with the establishment.

Nevertheless, he was assigned a position as a lay minister to a mining community in Belgium. There, he humbly served the poor in the best way he knew how. In a departure from the norm among other pastors, this man chose to live among the miners, share in their poverty—he even ventured into the mines and breathed the same black dust as them.

Eventually, he began painting portraits of them. In fact, the poor and marginalized became frequent subjects of his paintings.

His abilities as a painter enabled him to begin his work as an evangelist. After entering a village, he set up his paints and easel and shared the gospel while he painted.

Nevertheless, his overly zealous personality and inability to work with the people in authority resulted in the termination of his position.

So, at 27 years of age, Vincent van Gogh began his career as a full-time artist. It soon became apparent that van Gogh’s strangeness was really a mental illness. He suffered from various types of epilepsy, psychotic attacks, and delusions. This period of his life was marked by constant rejection from women he loved and the people he was close to.

And as his inner battles intensified, his paintings intensified, too. The deeper and darker his world became, the deeper the brush strokes on his canvas became as well.

His ongoing inner turmoil drove Vincent van Gogh to take his life. And so at the age of 37, the master painter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, relatively unknown and unaware of the impact he would make on the world around him.

I would venture to say that the agony and the pain transformed this talented painter into one of the greatest painters of all time. Not coincidentally, most of his best-known works were produced during his final two agonizing years.

God is painting a masterpiece of your life as well. Please join us in our daily Bible conversation and learn how!


Isaiah 8:1-11:16
2 Corinthians 12:1-21
Psalm 55:1-56:13
Proverbs 23:4-8


Isaiah 8:1-11:16. Today’s reading prophesies the birth of Jesus. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

And later, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).

Between these feel-good passages, God takes on Israel and then Assyria. What strikes me is God’s anger over the oppression of the poor, widows, and fatherless. Notice that God blames “those who make unjust laws” and “those who issue oppressive decrees”(10:1). Caring for the poor isn’t a personal responsibility but also a governmental responsibility.

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Paul finally reaches the high point of his book. His detractors have pummeled his character,  accentuating his many weaknesses. But rather than cover them up, Paul agrees with them.

“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations,” he writes, “there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

We don’t know the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, but after reading about his many sufferings, I wonder if he was referring to his life of constant hardship and pain.

Nevertheless, despite the prayers of this powerful man of God, Jesus spoke to him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Instead of removing the pain, Jesus promised to give Paul the grace to endure it. Why? Because the power of Jesus is most evident in us when we’re fully aware and unashamed of our weaknesses. And what does that power look like? Grace. Beauty.

Like van Gogh’s great works of art, there seems to be a relationship between beauty and pain.

How often do we pursue lives that are free of pain, free of frustration, free of challenge, free of stress. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like death to me!

But the life that reflects ultimate beauty, divine beauty, God’s power isn’t lived in our strength, but it’s forged out of our weakness. The most beautiful story is really Jesus’ story lived through you.

When you experience pain, don’t ignore it or conceal it. Allow Jesus to use it to paint something beautiful.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What beautiful creations has Jesus painted from your pain?
  3. How have you experienced Jesus’ power in weakness?
  4. What are the advantages of coming to grips with out weakness?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.



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4 responses to “The Relationship Between Beauty And Pain

  1. Mike:

    Wonderful connection between beauty and pain and van Gogh. I had no idea the depth of his spiritual journey and pain. Thanks.

    I have reread the section in Isaiah several times concerning oppression and cannot see how it gives government responsibility for the poor. God may actually consider that the case, but I don’t agree that because God condemns their oppressive laws that then they should have any laws. Otherwise we would have to argue that where God has condemned governments for worshiping false gods, or as it reads here “a godless nation” that it is therefore the government’s responibility to make laws about worship.

    Thanks for a stimulating post.

  2. Thanks for the response, Eugene. In Isaiah 10:1-12, God says, “Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

    Seems to me that the government makes the laws and issues decrees–and not individuals. God is condemning people, to be sure, but they are the leaders acting on behalf of their country.

    At a minimum, the government holds a responsibility to refrain from oppressing the people.

    But also look at the treatment of the poor in Leviticus 19:9 and 23:22. These were laws given to the people of Israel. Obviously, their government wasn’t established like it was in Isaiah’s day, but the government as it was (God and Moses) enacted a law on the people.

  3. elna

    Isaiah mentioned “mighty God” …so how could the Jews crucify Christ for calling Himself God? How often do we not read the Word wrong because it doesn’t fit in with our ideas of how it should be? :))

  4. It happens quite often. I edit study Bibles for Zondervan, and that happens frequently in my work. Happens to me too on occasion.

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