First off, you know Bob Ross, right? For a long time he did a PBS painting show called The Joy of Painting, where he would teach folks how to paint landscapes full of “happy little trees”. You’ve probably heard his soft, calm voice and seen his afro, as he told you, “It’s your world”, when he was explaining the freedom of deciding where to put a cloud, or a tree, or a breaking wave. Phrases like, “Anywhere you want ’em” or “It’s your decision; it’s your world”, and a seemingly haphazard, “Maybe he lives right there” (referring to the beginnings a snow-caked evergreen).
It’s an interesting thing, though: The freedom of decision-making and creativity in painting, while very real, are constrained by the medium and necessities of making the paint on the canvas actually look like a cloud, or tree, or cresting wave. While in one sense, “It’s your world”, in another sense, it isn’t. You are only free within the boundaries of what colors and strokes are required to make water look like water and clouds look like clouds and mountains look like mountains.*
The parallel pokes its head up pretty obviously at this point.
While we follow Jesus, we have a degree of (very real) creativity and freedom. We make decisions; we walk pathways. We mix colors and stroke our brushes across the canvas. But we are limited by the boundaries of Jesus’ covenant with us. We are not free to simply do an un-qualified “whatever we want to do”–that is, assuming we want a Jesus-shaped painting when we’re done. It’s his canvas, his paint, his brushes, and he tells us, “I died and rose again to give you the constrained-freedom that will make something beautiful in the end.”
*If you’re an artistic person, please don’t think this is a comment on the nature or value of abstract art. It’s simply a parallel to the Christian life within a certain “style” of painting.