War and Stillness

Gustave Doré (1832-1883), The Enigma, 1871, Oil on canvas
The Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune affected Doré profoundly. He recorded scenes of the siege in the streets around him and also made three large allegorical paintings in 1871. This painting is undoubtedly the most tragic of the three. Doré uses real elements alongside allegorical ones. The battle is over, and atop a hill strewn with bodies (possibly Montmartre, one of the areas of combat), stands a sphinx overlooking the scene. In the distance, smoke rises from a city (Paris) set alight by enemy fire. Under the dark sky, a winged woman is in tears and questions the sphinx in vain for an explanation of the chaos and horror of war, but the sphinx remains silent. (Explanatory notes accompanying the Painting at the ‘Dreams and Reality: Masterpieces of Painting, Drawing and Photography from the Musée d’Orsay, Paris’ exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore between 26 Oct 11 and 5 Feb 12)

This painting gripped me during an exhibition and my memories of it was triggered when I was meditating on Psalm 46 during my devotional time recently.

Psalm 46 (NIV1984)

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

The imageries employed in the Psalms are so vivid – God is like the bomb-shelter we can hide in when the shellings are hard and heavy. The explosions outside shake our core, but we are safe in the shelter. Desolation and war (verses 8 and 9) – yes, God ordains them, yet He is able to make them cease in His sovereignty. He is our refuge, our strength, our ever-present help in trouble (v1); He is our fortress and He is with us (v 7 & 11). One day, the wars shall cease. That will be the day that there is full admission of His sovereignty and rule, where He will be exalted among the nations and in the earth (v10). We will be still and assent that He is God.

But till that day comes, the earth gives way, the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, the waters roar and the mountains quake. Nations will be in uproar, kingdoms fall, and the earth will melt. Destruction and desolation is real, but it is not forever. It will end one day.

Maranatha. ‘Come, Lord Jesus. Come.’

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