By Brenda Black
The 120 million dollar question: If I had $120 million, why would I spend it on ugly art? I never did understand the appeal of “The Scream,” by Edvard Munch. I'm not sure why anyone would want a haunting picture of an emaciated, androgynous something standing on a bridge, hands clasped to its hollow and pale face, mouth gaping and eyes wide in horror over who knows what. Not my kind of ambiance. I just can's see that hanging above my couch. Maybe that's why the bidder of the iconic, most expensive artwork ever sold at auction remained anonymous.
Then again, perhaps whomever it is, prefers anonymity to avoid the onslaught of commentary about his or her foolishness with funds. I could interject here statistics on how many starving children could be fed, clothed, housed, loved. I am tempted to rail on the wasteful use of money in such a trying economy. But I'm too much of a free market kind of gal. Instead, I'll take an artistic approach and venture that such lavish behavior, accompanied by fear of recognition, could actually parallel the face of fear in the artwork. Did the buyer purchase his self portrait? The bigger question for each of us remains: What do I fear and where do I place my trust --in wealth and riches or in Christ? Helpful insight on the topic of riches and anxiety comes through a song writer in the Book of Psalm, the 49th chapter.
“Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike... Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me – those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough – that he should live on forever and not see decay. For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves.
“But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my soul from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.
“Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed – and men praise you when you prosper – he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.” (Psalm 49:1-20)
Apparently, riches don't eradicate worry and they certainly can't buy an extended warranty on life. No wonder Sotheby's spokesman David Norman thinks the world is filled with frightened, frantic people. He sees the popularity of the artist's work as representative of that deep-seeded emotion. "The Scream has really entered the collective conscience, whatever nationality, whatever country, whatever attitude or age, it really sort of speaks to that sort of existential terror that everyone experiences in the world," Norman told a CNN reporter.
He might be right. From birth, we learn that the world is a scary place. But there is One who can alleviate fear, conquer death and bring rich peace for every anxiety. Christ's sacrificial actions on the cross unseat the terror as portrayed by Munch's bridge-walking subject. The cross is where Jesus Christ stared into the depth of hell and annihilated death to ransom those who trust in Him. If we believe, we have nothing to fear! “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear...” (Ps. 46:1-2a)
Big bucks won't keep us safe. Wealth can't chase away terror. It may take $120 million these days to land a piece of iconic art, but that doesn't buy eternal security. The cost is much higher and it's already paid. When the hammer dropped on the purchase of the human soul, the life of Jesus Christ paid the bill. He hung exposed, not anonymously. And He thought we were worth more than a 120 million to take us home.