By Ronnie McBrayer
More than 120 years ago this week, Vincent Van Gogh died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. In his short life, Van Gogh produced hundreds of watercolor paintings, sketches, and prints – some of which are the most valued in the world. Van Gogh’s posthumous success is a tremendous surprise, for his life was considered a disaster. He was an insufferable friend; his struggles with mental illness, depression, and alcoholism were well known; and he failed at a number of attempted careers.
One of those career choices was the Christian pastorate. “God has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor,” Vincent wrote to his brother, so off he went to Amsterdam to enter the seminary, but Van Gogh failed the entrance exam. Undeterred, he entered a missionary school in Brussels. He flunked out.
Still resolute, he convinced the Dutch Reformed Church to appoint him as a missionary pastor to the coal miners in the village of Borinage. There he succeeded in his own way. Van Gogh gave away all his possessions to the miners. He lived like a beggar himself, barely surviving.
When the church authorities came to inspect his successful and growing ministry, they were appalled by him and his appearance. They removed him from his position because he “undermined the dignity of the priesthood.” Vincent never seemed to heal from this wound; a wound that played a role in him turning to the easel.
It was Van Gogh’s pictures—his interpretations of his surroundings—that he used to lead people to God. And he did so with all his rough edges and broken pieces; his fragmented mind and his constant illnesses; with his short, remarkable life; bringing the world priceless joy out of tremendous personal pain.
Bob Dylan sang, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.” Such is the case of tragic geniuses and such is life. Every journey is a mingled pathway of sorrow and rejoicing; of birth and death; of pain and joy; of difficulty and satisfaction. Some of it we understand and it makes sense; and a lot of it leaves us with the question marks of hopelessness.
But somehow there is joy behind the suffering, and resourcefulness behind the aching. There is purpose behind the rejection, and in one way or another, there is a future behind the knockbacks that life deals. Truly, the pain can lead to something extraordinarily beautiful.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.