Vincent and the Doctor: Well Done Good and Faithful Servant
Vincent and the Doctor: Well Done Good and Faithful Servant
Vincent and the Doctor is arguably the best Doctor Who episodes of all time. Along with Blink, it’s easily one of the episodes that serves completely as a stand-alone and could be the appetizer to beget new Whovians. In the wake of Rory dying (or, better put, being wiped from existence), the Doctor is taking Amy on some fan service Tardis adventures. This lands them smack dab in the presence of Amy’s favorite painter, Vincent Van Gogh. When they arrived, Amy is shocked to learn that Vincent is completely and utterly unappreciated. As the Doctor and Amy first come upon Vincent they hear this:
Vincent: One painting for one drink. That’s not a bad deal.
Maître d’: It wouldn’t be a bad deal if the painting were any good. I can’t hang that up on my walls, it’ll scare the customers half to death. It’s bad enough having you here in person, let alone looming over the customers day and night in a stupid hat.
Vincent is battling intensely with self-worth issues, artistic doubt, mental instability, depression, and anguish. His art is considered worthless and the depth of his grief is crushing him completely. While it’s initially almost comical for us because we know how history will hold Vincent, it’s not funny for Vincent though, and we are instantly plunged into a journey of empathy.
Realizing the struggle and doubt Vincent dealt with in those times is eye opening. When we think of someone who is successful, we often just see them as their outcome of success not realizing there might be unfathomable struggle that came before the success. It also is a painful reminder that while the struggles may be worth it in the end, we may never actually see the fruit of our struggle in our own lives.
My mom worked a grueling factory job as a predominately single mother to take care of me and provide for me. She worked exhausting hours with heavy machinery and wires that gnarled her hands over the years. She was a mom that was always proud of me, but she never really got to see the full fruit of her sacrifice. When she died, I had just been ordained as a pastor. I had taught Bible classes in schools and run a camp ministry for years, and she thought that was amazing, but literally things were just getting started. She never got to see all the success and blessings that were coming. She didn’t get to see me plant a church or pastor a church that I think she would have truly loved. She never got to see me become an author, screen writer, “40 Under 40” winner, or the one dude in the background of an episode of Swamp Thing for like 8 seconds. None of these things would have made her prouder of me, but literally with every success, I just have an ache of sadness that she isn’t here to see the fruit of her labor. Not to mention, the freaking Jedi that her grandchildren have become.
The same may be true for you right now. You may think your struggle isn’t leading to any success where you are in life, but scripture teaches us that our victories aren’t limited to our own time frame. The struggles will be worth it. Romans 8 is one of the most encouraging chapters of scripture in all of the Bible. Paul makes this statement in verse 18:
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” - Romans 8:18.
Paul was referring not to just some inspirationally vague concept that things will get better, but the factual notion that what we go through now is literally not worth comparing to what God will do in and through us in the future. The world we live and struggle in is a broken place, and most of what we go through are broken experiences. God is going to make things new, make this world new, and make us new.
Those sound great as future concepts you can’t measure, but it also shows us the truth even here and now. My mom had no idea what her struggle would produce, and Vincent had no idea what his struggle would produce. You also have no idea how much good is awaiting you. Your life is like planting the seed of a fruit this world has never seen. You do the work, dig, plant, cover, water, and wait. During that whole process, it just looks like it’s dead and buried, but life and fruit will come.
Sometimes though, we honestly just want a spoiler. We want some encouragement or guarantee that things will be worth it. We can convince ourselves that things are so bleak that we just give up. Vincent grasped that. He believed his art would never be loved. This is revealed in this heartbreaking quote:
“I’ve come to accept the only person who’s going to love my paintings is me.”
And while not believing your art or work will be worth it, it’s so much more bleak and painful to believe nothing in your life will be worth it.
Vincent: It’s so clear you cannot help. And when you leave, and everyone always leaves, I will be left once more with an empty heart and no hope. The Doctor: My experience is that there is, you know, surprisingly, always hope. Vincent: Then your experience is incomplete! I know how it will end. And it will not end well."
When we are tired, wounded, or hopeless, we really just want someone to reassure us that things will be okay. While Vincent would eventually get his spoiler from the bow-tie-clad time traveler, we most likely won't have that option (low key hoping, but still). At our end, we honestly just have to rely on the assurance that God actually knows our outcome. This encourages us to keep going.
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” - Psalm 139:16
One of my favorite things about the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry is that He had spoilers. Jesus, even from the time He was a boy, was in the temple studying scriptures. He was quoting and teaching from the time He was 12. He demonstrated clearly that He had a greater knowledge of the scriptures than anyone He went against, be it Satan or a Pharisee.
If Jesus truly studied scripture the way we understand it, He had some pretty blatant spoilers to what was going down. Between Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 alone, almost his whole life is mapped out in 2 chapters of scripture. This scripture was hundreds of years old before He showed up physically in a manger. Check these out (heads up a lot of scripture ahead, read it, it’s worth it):
"Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” - Isaiah 53:1-12
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him— may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” - Psalm 22:1-3
Jesus got a full preview of what He was going to experience. I wonder how often in His times of struggle, Jesus could take comfort in the scriptural spoilers, knowing He would accomplish what God had sent Him to do? Even with those aspects and foreknowledge, Jesus also saw very clearly that there was going to be pain and even far greater suffering before His goal was accomplished.
That’s the thing. Pain doesn’t stop beauty from being beautiful. Suffering along the way doesn’t stop victory from being victory. The capacity we have to turn pain into perseverance and beauty from suffering is something truly remarkable. That’s something that Vincent could do even in the midst of his constant anguish. He never lost sight of how much beauty truly surrounded him. Listen to what he tells the Doctor:
“Hold my hand, Doctor. Try to see what I see. We’re so lucky we’re still alive to see this beautiful world. Look at the sky. It’s not dark and black and without character. The black is in fact deep blue. And over there! Lights are blue. And blue in through the blueness, and the blackness, the winds swirling through the air… and then shining. Bursting, bursting through! The stars, can you see how they roll their light? Everywhere we look, complex magic of nature blazes before our eyes.”
Vincent didn’t let his pain or torment dull his sense of beauty. In fact, it made it sharper. People often ask about the goodness of God in the face of the evil or darkness in this world, and it’s very much the same. God sees the brokenness, but there can be no real love, beauty, art, or worship without free will. That free will also brings sin, pain, darkness, and consequences that ripple through our whole world. But God not only sees the beauty in the pain. He brings restoration. It is His desire to take the broken things and make them beautiful. It is His desire to bring beauty from ashes. The prophet Isaiah declares this in chapter 61.
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." Isaiah 61:1-3.
I recognize it’s hard to cope with the things that are difficult by solely hoping on something God may do at a later date, but it is comforting knowing God wants more for us than suffering. He wants us to experience joy, not pain. In the face of what is going on in this world, God knows the good in our lives, both now and in eternity. Amy was disheartened to know that their visit to Vincent would not change the outcome of his journey, but the Doctor showed her that they did, in fact, increase the quality of his life. Listen to what the Doctor says:
“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things... and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.
They added to his good pile for sure, but what I love about God is that He isn’t just content in adding to our good pile. He wants to add true abundant life and victory to our journey. His love will not only make the good outweigh the bad, but there will be victory and redemption at every turn.
"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.“ Romans 8:31-39.
After the Doctor gave Vincent his spoiler and seeing the renewed vigor in Vincent, Amy was certain that Vincent’s outcome would be different.
Vincent: This changes everything. I’ll step out tomorrow with my easel in hand. Although I still can’t believe one of the haystacks was in the museum. How embarrassing. Amy: Time can be rewritten! I know it can. Come on! Oh, the long life of Vincent Van Gogh. There’ll be hundreds of new paintings.”
Sadly, it wasn’t the case. Knowing that things will be better one day can be encouragement to keep going and fuel to endure, but it doesn’t always change the outcome, or that suffering and bad times will come. But knowing your work and effort are worth it is a reward that lasts beyond suffering. Vincent listening to Dr. Black give an account of who Vincent was in terms of an artist is so beautifully acted and one of the most touching scenes of any medium. To witness someone who struggled so harshly get that assurance is beautiful.
The Doctor: I just wondered, between you and me—in a hundred words—where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art? Dr. Black: Well. Um, big question, um, but to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly, the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of color, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world. No one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange wild man who roamed the fields of Provence, was not only the world’s greatest artist but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”
As beautiful as that scene was for us and Vincent, there’s a similar moment I'm hoping for in my life. Jesus, in Matthew 25, is telling this story comparing people given gifts and talents in life, and how they use them. Jesus tells in the story that when those servants who did what the master asked come face to face with their master, that they are welcomed with this beautiful phrase,
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” - Matthew 25:23.
I’ve been serving God and following Jesus well over the majority of my life. There’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows. There have been times I've been in step with the Spirit, and times I've been a complete failure. But I can tell you this– just like hearing Dr. Black describe Vincent’s status, I think I’m going to feel so much more hearing my Father say, “Well done my good and faith servant.” To be greeted with love and recognition that the doubts were foolish and that the sacrifices weren’t in vain will make it all worth it in the end. I will know that I am where I belong and that I was never alone in this journey. I look forward to that day. Just like with Vincent and Dr. Black, knowing I’ll hear those things doesn’t make the struggles less of a struggle, but it is a source of joy and encouragement through whatever I'm experiencing.
I truly pray that whatever place of pain and struggle you find yourself in, you’ll be able to see the beauty around you in the moment. You aren’t alone in what you are going through, and even if you aren’t seeing it now, one day you’ll be able to look back and see it’s all worth it. I also pray and hope you are surrounded by people who will love and encourage you through the process. Faced with the Doctor leaving, Vincent stated, "We have fought monsters together and we have won. On my own, I fear I may not do as well.” Find people to encourage you through the dark times, and when you are out of the darkness yourself, be an encouragement to those who are still in it.