The Lord Provides (1991)
Yvonne Benzinger
copyright 1991

Lent 1, Genesis 22:1-18

Historical Description:

“The Lord Provides” is an oil painting by Yvonne Benzinger from 1991. “I was looking at retiring from many years of commercial art and pursuing fine art again,” Benzigner says. The idea of story plays a key role in her painting. “There is so much drama in many Bible stories that they ask to be painted.” The pages of Scripture speak, they describe, they evoke, they are real-life stories that ask to be told. In “The Lord Provides,” Benzigner creates a static image that asks your eyes to dance while it tells an unfolding story.

After researching the text, studying the characters, and brainstorming about the visual symbolism, Benzigner describes a transformation: “But to me it was no longer just a story of Abraham and Isaac, men of great faith tested by God. It is a story that climaxes with Atonement.” At this time in her artistic life, Benzinger was influenced by a quotation from the 12th century priest Gerald of Wales. The way Gerald describes an Hiberno Saxon Gospel manuscript influenced how Benzinger went about composing her image. “Look at them superficially with the ordinary casual glance, and you would think it an erasure, and not tracery. Fine craftsmanship is all about you, but you might not notice it. Look more keenly at it, and you will penetrate to the very shrine of art. You will make out intricacies, so delicate and subtle, so exact and compact, so full of knots and links, with colors so fresh and vivid, that you might say that all this was the work of an angel, and not of a man. For my part the oftener I see the book, and the more carefully I study it, the more I am lost in ever fresh amazement, and I see more and more wonders in the book.”

Devotional Reflection:

“The ordinary casual glance” often overlooks the “delicate and subtle” nature of this painting.The image is “so full of knots and links, with colors so fresh and vivid” that most passersby see nothing more than a medley of bright colors. As a matter of fact, this painting is so subtle, that those responsible for displaying it in a church have hung it in between the “Coffee Nook” and the “Child Care.” Eighteen inches from the box of Sunday morning donuts: maple, chocolate, glazed and sprinkled. Ten feet from the open door where parents can deposit their children with a nursery attendant during the worship service (I wonder how many parents would be so willing if they looked more carefully at the painted scene next to the nursery). Fifteen feet from the church’s “Food Pantry” which freely distributes bags of groceries two days a week.

It’s a scandalous painting, hidden in plain view. Its offensive (yet grace-filled) message is hidden and dulled by its bright colors. Imagine being a part of this oft repeated scene. A man comes to the church because he needs help with groceries. While the volunteer fills bags full of provision, the man meanders around the waiting area. He stops to see this bright painting on the wall. After a few quick seconds of seeing the different colors, he’s ready to continue his stroll. But before he takes his next step, the pastor asks him, “Do you know the story?” At first he didn’t know that there even was a story to know. The pastor says, “It’s a story from the Bible. There’s a boy in the middle, his name is Isaac. God provided this family with a promised child. He’s carrying wood for a fire, for a burnt offering. And over here is menorah, a kind of candle, the kind they’d later use at the Temple for sacrifices. And then over here is Isaac’s father, Abraham.

“You see what’s in his hand? It’s a knife. It’s raised above Isaac. His son, his only son, whom he loves, is about to be sacrificed. God told him to. God told this father to sacrifice his only son. And Abraham is about to do it, but then this angel stops him. God sees Abraham’s faith, so he sends this angel to stop him. And God provides. Instead of Isaac being the sacrifice, God provides another one. It’s that animal at the bottom of the painting. The painting is called, ‘The Lord Provides.’ And it’s just like when God the Father was about to sacrifice his only son Jesus. Only that time, there was no substitute.Actually, Jesus was the substitute. He was my substitute, and your substitute. He was sacrificed on the cross so that we could live.” And as the man takes a few steps away to receive his food, he glances back and notices red cross in the background of the scene.

If no one talked with the man, that painting would be nothing more than some pretty colors. The Gospel is often hidden in plain view. Sometimes its scandalous message is hidden behind the general niceties of God’s people. Other times, God’s provision is buried in the jumble and confusion of daily life and a struggle for daily bread. But the story must be told, and the scandal must be revealed, so that God’s grace and eternal provision might be received.

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