aRt and tHeOlOgY: beauty, ashes and Picasso’s Guernica

July 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

What happens when the guns fall silent, when wars end and silence remains?

If the guns have truly been silenced, the answer must always require the theological exchange expressed by Isaiah in 61:1-4: as beauty for ashes, comfort for those who grieve joy for those who mourn, and the restoration of ruined cities.

guernica-300x219 _April 26_1937 Bombing_Edited


For better or worse this exchange exists in a paradox of potentiality and thanksgiving. This paradox finds itself expressed in the promise of resurrection. The possibility of which is constantly dragged down by the limited resources of both our cognitive understanding, and physical ability to find life left hidden amongst the ashes.

Those whose lives have been shattered through war may find that a contemporary resurrection from this destruction appears unattainable. This is understandable because the potentiality of hope lies amidst the colourless rubble. That grey monotony of actuality which is evident in the desolation standing in clear view before them.

But, reason must reach for faith in order to see that which lies hidden.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso, 1937

Pablo Picasso captures this, painting a bleak scene in cubism, to express the devastation felt and experienced by the people of Guernica, Spain, as Nazi bombs fell on the town in 1937.


Source: wikipedia

The broken and desolate have clearer access to the voice of the one, who reaches out to us from the vindication of His resurrection and ascension.

This point of contact can be as simple as the realization that when you look at your family tree ‘there is hardly anything left to see’ (Linkin Park). This awakening shakes us from our slumber and reminds us that ashes remain because ‘the thief stole, killed and destroyed’ (Jn.10:10).

Thankfully, the Spirit of freedom inverts this into a boundless vista of promise, aligning us towards the good shepherd who lays down His own life, so that we may have life and life in abundance (Jn. 10:10-11).



This is about receiving  grace from the One who stands for us; the same Creator who called forth the seasons (Gen.1:14), the scent of the eucalypt, gardenia and rain.

For most of us the pain of a broken life, inherited or otherwise makes breathing hard. It is from this brokenness that our hearts are drawn from our throats to the foot of the manger, the cross and the empty tomb – the quintessential places in history where God chose to take on the stubborn and violent NO of inhumanity, and chose to answer that with His great humanitarian YES. A yes which bursts forth from the lifeless and broken body of Jesus the Christ, as he gasps the air for the first time since His death. God’s very real and very human victory bursts forth from the tomb as the resurrected Christ, walks freely towards ALL humanity (Jn. 20).

Not one of us can understand loss to the extent with which God does, but we can have comfort in knowing that because of this, God understands our loss. He understands beyond what we are capable of acknowledging for ourselves. In some respects this encapsulates itself in the prayer ‘Lord, please show me what it is that you see?’

Reason must reach for faith in order to see that which lies hidden.

‘Oh God…in me there is darkness, but with thee there is light.
I am lonely, but thou leavest me not.
I am feeble in heart, but thou leavest me not.
I am restless, but with thee there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with thee there is patience; Thy ways are past understanding,
But thou knowest the way for me’
(Written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Tegel Prison, 1943)

Exchanging beauty for ashes means that we enter into the paradox of potentiality and thanksgiving. It is to allow God to ‘wash the sorrow from off our skin and show us how to be whole again’ (Linkin Park ‘Castle of Glass’). It is about the consolation of life, becoming fully human (Bonhoeffer) – something granted, given and commanded by the God who joyfully, and yet painfully meets us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ (- Jesus, Jn.11:25)

Related reading:

The Origins of Guernica
3d Version of Picasso’s Guernica [recommended]
Bombing of Guernica by the Nazi’s in 1937
The passion of Picasso – Ronald Goetz
Spanish Civil War –
The day terrorism came to town –
Metaxas, E. 2010:443 Bonhoeffer Thomas Nelson Publishers

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