Welcome to the New Year! Many of us may find ourselves pondering and planning what we would like to accomplish and change about ourselves and our lives early in the year. Have you figured out your New Year’s resolutions yet?
While reading a book over the Christmas holidays, I came across a reference to a painting that piqued my interest. William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) painted “The Light of the World” around the time that he became a Christian (1). Later in the early 1900s, he painted a life-size version of this theme (see image above) that now hangs in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in London, England.
Hunt was inspired to produce this work of art from Jesus’ words recorded in the book of Revelation (3:20): “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” The door that Jesus is knocking on represents the human soul. A careful inspection of each version of this painting (three of them) indicates that the door is unable to be opened from the outside because it is missing a handle. In other words, the door can be opened only from the inside by one’s own soul.
We may sense God’s grace in our lives in how we are drawn to the gentle knocks of God’s presence in nature, our friends, in Christ’s words recorded in the Bible, in the kindness we see in others, and even in the stirrings within us when we gaze at pictures like “The Light of the World.” Note that Jesus does not break down the door of our soul to enter in nor does he promise to lecture to us once we let him in on how we might shape up. No, he waits for us to open the door and promises to have a meal with us so we can get to know each other better.
Throughout the Gospel narratives, Jesus extends gracious invitations. For example, he asks a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51). He extends the invitation to the people in Galilee to “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). When he notices that two of John the Baptist’s disciples are following him, he inquires of them, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38).
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul captures the joy associated with responding to God’s invitation to open the door of our souls to him. He writes, “We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” Romans 5:2 (The Message translation).
Circling back, what does this have to do with figuring out our new year resolutions? Inspired by William Hunt’s “The Light of the World” and our pastors’ messages in my faith community the first few weeks this year on “How We Change,” I am inviting Jesus into this process in my life - to help me answer the questions that Jesus asks and to learn from him as he invites us to do. I am especially excited about the promise associated with opening that door - finding myself standing “out in the wide-open spaces of God’s grace and glory.”
How about you? What would it be like for you to open the door of your soul to God and discover that he has thrown open his door to you already?
Tom Gurney, “The Light of the World.” https://www.thehistoryofart.org/william-holman-hunt/light-of-the-world/. Published on June 19, 2020, and updated on October 14, 2023.