4 Bullet Holes In A Painting

St George’s Orthodox Cathedral in Beirut, along with countless other buildings, was badly damaged during the Lebanese civil war. Now restored and repaired, except for 2 wall paintings. Both feature scenes from the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life.

The first shows the Garden of Gethsemane where He prayed, in agony, aware of what was about to happen. One account tells us an angel strengthened Him. In this painting, Jesus and the angel are peppered by bullet holes. The other painting shows Jesus, with gold halo, in a pink red robe at his trial before Pontius Pilate. Here, the gunman was more accurate. The handcuffed, stationary figure was hit twice on the arm, twice the chest, although one bullet hole shows he managed to miss as well.

These are images almost bound to evoke a reaction. Desecration! Deliberate and wilful violation of a sacred image! Rude words come to the lips to describe the perpetrators – the so and sos! On further reflection, a different reaction?

Jesus’ trial ended with a guilty verdict, history would say He was a victim of injustice, pinned to a cross to die, rather than 4 bullets in an undefended body. Much as we’d prefer a different ending, it’s how the life of the Baby born in Bethlehem ended.

The focus of Christmas is, of course, the birth of Jesus. In one of the great Christmas readings (from John 1) there are the words, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” – it never will. This Baby’s life would be lived in a dark world, just as our lives have to navigate darkness in its many forms – war, fractured relationships, our internal darkness, sickness (mental and physical) and addiction in its many forms.

To hear that “the light will never to be overcome by the darkness” is as great a hope as there could be. The obedience of this One Man opened the way for God to show us the prototype of His new creation. And that this new life is His gift to ALL of us.

This restored church in Beirut with the bullet holes left in these paintings I find an arresting reminder that God’s Light defeated the darkness and because of that, the darkness I see and know is defeated, and will be seen to be.

Tom Gillum