2011, Oil on Canvas, 19.2in x 24in
A finished painting, yet an unresolved story
In 2010 when I was a junior at St. Olaf College, I remember praying specifically about the covenant of marriage while painting Prodigal, 2011. I was inspired by the unbreakable covenant that God intended for a man and a woman within marriage. I had witnessed just years before the transformational change when my parents decided to place Jesus Christ at the center of their marriage after fifteen years of trying to make it on their own. The God-given lock of covenantal marriage joins two door panels of husband and wife forever. The door will be weathered, the lock will rust, but the chain will not be easily broken when Christ is at the center. What Christ has joined, let no man separate (Matthew 19:6). Throughout scripture, marriage is related to the covenant relationship between Christ and the church. Just as the church was betrothed to Christ, so is a bride betrothed to her groom and the groom is to love his bride as Christ loves his church (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:21-27; Revelation 19:7, 21:2). The antique chain-locked door panels consistently proved to be a symbol for the binding union made by a husband and wife from when I began painting the blank canvas to the final work of art.
When the day came to name this artwork, I felt so strongly that its title should be Prodigal in relation to Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. This parable is a story of forgiveness and reconciliation given to a reckless, rebellious son by his loving father. This broken relationship began when the son confronted his father, collected his inheritance, and left his family for a self-indulgent, independent life. After traveling to a foreign land, the prodigal son engaged in a wastefully extravagant lifestyle until a severe famine ravaged the land and left him poorer than the pigs in the sty. When the son came to his senses, he determined to return to his father’s home and beg for work as a hired servant. When the boy was still a long way off, “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Rather than begging for forgiveness, the son found himself engulfed in the full embrace of his father’s love and celebration at his return. The father-son relationship was created by God not to be easily broken. What Christ has joined together, let nothing separate. The restoration and reunion within a relationship when it is undeserved is sweeter and more genuine because it illustrates the abounding grace that comes only from the Lord.
The theme of covenantal marriage and the parable of the prodigal son both retain significant truths, but how can they both be united in one painting? In 2011, I had a finished painting, yet an unresolved story.
Four years later, I received an inquiry of sale from a lovely woman who expressed a special connection to Prodigal, 2011. After a short phone call, the story of this painting was unveiled through the life and testimony of this woman and her husband. I believe that when I had been praying about the marriage covenant while painting, God was using me to pray over this specific marriage. Over the years many have expressed interest in this painting, but I had never felt any peace about selling it because I had not resolved its meaning. In 2015, I found the complete story of Prodigal, 2011 most clearly illustrated through Tina and Peter’s journey to love and faith.
On October 23rd, 2010 Tina and Peter exchanged vows in the presence of God, witnessed by fourteen family members and close friends. That day, the seal of covenantal marriage was locked yet inevitable storms would soon test the strength of their chain. In the first three years of marriage, the stress and turmoil of life wore their relationship thin. Weary from anger and disappointment, the barrier between husband and wife grew seemingly insurmountable. In October 2013 Peter and Tina separated and filed for a divorce. The Kingman family graciously opened their home to Tina and lavished her with love and support. During this time, a multitude of prayers were being lifted up for this broken relationship and severed marriage. By God’s design the bonding of a man and a wife into one being leaves deep wounds when the two are torn apart.
Self-sufficiency is acclaimed by the world, but leaves a man spiritually bankrupt. The idolatry of self-reliance takes the focus off of the abundant life in Christ. God should not be a vision in the rearview mirror; He must be sitting in the driver’s seat. After growing up in the church, somewhere along the road Peter and Tina had exchanged strength from the Lord for strength from their own efforts. As finite, physical beings strength naturally runs out and empty physical tanks cannot sustain a marriage. Just as the prodigal son had realized his desperate need to return to his father, Peter and Tina also recognized their desire to seek after their Father in Heaven. Within one year, both individuals committed their lives to Christ and each knew that God had never given up on their marriage. What He had united, no man could separate.
In October 2014 Peter and Tina decided to annul their divorce. They wanted to declare that the severance of their marriage was invalid. This would have been the first case in the state of Minnesota. The news reporters would have had a field day, the attorney would have been exuberant, but regrettably the judge rejected their appeal. From beginning to end, the Word of God reveals that God is more concerned with the condition of the heart rather than the legal fulfillments. Peter and Tina had transformed hearts and when they put Christ at the center of their reformed marriage, everything changed. The lock of covenantal marriage had not been broken, only weathered.
The sweet reunion of the Father and the prodigal son adequately illustrates both God’s embrace of Peter and Tina and the beautiful reunification of husband and wife. The rust surrounding the lock is a reminder of the victory over the past through Christ’s redeeming love.