This is a painting I made during some days off last week. It’s called Blood and Ash, and I painted it as a response to the opening chapters of Leviticus.
You can read the first few chapters here; read them, and try to imagine the scenes they describe. Leviticus is a book concerned with how an impure, rebellious people can have a relationship with a pure and holy God. God graciously set up a series of sacrfices so that His people could come to him. The sacrifices mean that their sin and stubbornness is painfully obvious – these rituals are performed repeatedly to cleanse the people and the priest who represent them. They’re a powerful remind of who God is – they must come to give thanks to God when things are going well, and they must come and offer sacrifices when they fail. The problem is serious, because the solution required blood. Fire speaks of the wrath of God and his righteous judgment, but it also speaks of purification and cleansing. Blood and fire cleanse God’s people so that they can be forgiven and have a relationship with Him.
Imagine what it would have looked like. Imagine what it would have sounded like, what it would have smelt like. The ground running with blood as the priests offer sacrifice after sacrifice, and the piles of ash by the altar. The air thick with smoke from the constantly-burning fire, and the meat and bones and flour and incense that burn on it. The rich, gold-covered furnishings of the tabernacle, splattered with the blood of countless sacrifices, but blazing in the fire light.
I think it would have been pretty overwhelming, chaotic even, and I tried to capture some of that. I think there’s a bit of Rothko’s influence shining through here – I was aiming for a big field of red to bring out the emotional effect of the single colour. The dark area is painted with ash (from burning wood in my back garden) mixed with clear acrylic. I wanted to create a difference in texture, as well as referencing the fire and ashes that repeated sacrifices would create. It’s almost as if the ash spoils the picture, and this was kind of the idea – I wanted to disturb the effect of the red with something that looks messy – there was nothing clean and tidy about the tabernacle sacrifices.
But underneath all all the blood and smoke and ash, there’s grace and hope. There’s welcome. The blood and ash of Leviticus are a powerful picture of our need – we have no hope of standing before a holy God without help. But if we just talk about judgment and law, I think we miss the point. At it’s heart, Leviticus is soaked in the gospel. It’s about God’s outrageous grace in making it possible for people to come before him. And it points us forward to the perfect sacrifice, the once-for-all sacrifice who would render all other sacrifices unnecessary. It points us forward to the Lord Jesus, God the Son, who took God’s burning, righteous wrath upon himself and spilled his own blood, so that we could be forgiven.
The gold is supposed to capture something of that. It refers to the gold in the temple, but it also points to the hope and beauty shining through the blood and ash of sacrifice. And the blood and ash make it shine all the brighter.
I’m not sure how I feel about it – some days I get up and look at it, and I’m happy with it, others I want to start again. But I’d be interested to know what you think…