Denison Forum – A painting by Winston Churchill sold for $12 million: Finding our true worth in Whose we are
Christie’s employees adjust an oil on canvas painting by Sir Winston Churchill painted in Jan. 1943 called ‘Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque’ during an Art pre-sale photo call at Christie’s auction house in London, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
I have a bust of Winston Churchill on my desk. I purchased it in the gift shop at Blenheim Palace, his birthplace. Several times over the years, I have visited the War Rooms in London where he led England through World War II and the memorial to him at Westminster Abbey.
I have studied many of his speeches in detail, including the famous Iron Curtain speech he delivered seventy-five years ago today. I have given lectures on his life at St. Martin’s Church in Bladon, the place where he and his wife Clementine are buried. I have read four biographies of Churchill and seen three movie biographies of him.
I say all of that to say that I’m a bit of a Churchill fan. And I really wish I had a spare $12 million.
If I did, I would have purchased Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque. This painting depicts a sunset over Marrakech’s largest mosque, which Churchill took President Franklin Roosevelt to see after they participated in the 1943 Casablanca Conference. Roosevelt was so enamored with the sunset that Churchill painted the scene as a gift for him. While Churchill completed more than 550 paintings, this was the only work of art he completed during World War II.
Actress Angelina Jolie and her ex-husband Brad Pitt purchased the painting in 2011; she sold it this week at a Christie’s London auction for nearly $12 million. I wish I had been the buyer.
What Tom Brady did the morning after winning the Super Bowl
Here’s the part of the story that it pains me to admit: I don’t think Tower of the Koutoubia Mosque is a great work of art. In fact, if its painter had been anonymous, I wouldn’t pay $1,200 for it, much less $12 million. I would guess that the buyer explains to anyone viewing it that it was painted by Winston Churchill; otherwise, they might be as unimpressed as I am.
I say all of that to say this: Our true value lies not in what we do but in who we are. And who we are is best determined by Whose we are.
NBC Sports is reporting that Tom Brady began focusing on next season the morning after he won this year’s Super Bowl. I have no idea how other quarterbacks in the NFL are preparing for next year, but none of them have won seven Super Bowls. Who Brady is makes what he does headline news.
Conversely, our secular culture is built on the belief that what we do constitutes who we are. Winston Churchill’s iconic status as the Greatest Briton in history is largely the result of his leadership credited with saving Great Britain during World War II. Brady’s rank as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is the result of his astonishing achievements on the field.
Here’s the problem: if what we do determines who we are, our identity is always the product of our performance, and our performance is never enough. Brady is driven to win another Super Bowl; your work today will not be sufficient tomorrow. This is my last Daily Article for this week, but I will need to write another one Monday.
How to “lay aside every weight”
God sees us differently. In his view, our status is not found in who we are or in what we do but in Whose we are.
We are each made in his image (Genesis 1:27), which means each of us is as valuable as any of us. We are each loved unconditionally by the God who is love (1 John 4:8), which means that “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us” (St. Augustine). He loves you as much as he loves Paul the Apostle or Mother Teresa. In fact, the Father loves you as much as he loves his Son (John 17:23, 26).
How are we to respond? By returning the favor.
Jesus’ first commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). In a culture that separates Sunday from Monday and religion from the “real world,” God wants to be our “first love” every moment of every day (Revelation 2:4).
This is not for his sake, as if he were an egotist who needs our affirmation or a codependent partner who depends on our love. It is for our sake. He knows that loving him with every dimension of our lives is the best way for us to live our lives.
Our Father knows that when we love him more than anyone else, we will be empowered to love others with his love. When we love him more than ourselves, we will “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1) and experience his best for us (Romans 12:2). When we love him more than the world (1 John 2:15), we will show his love to the world (John 13:34).
The question we should ask every day
As I have written, I believe evangelical Christians are entering an unprecedented period in American history. Biblical morality is increasingly seen as homophobic, bigoted, discriminatory, and otherwise dangerous to society. As a result, the religious freedom that protects such morality is coming under greater attack than ever before.
We will be sorely tempted to respond either by compromising with immorality, rejecting as the enemy those who need the gospel, or withdrawing from the culture.
The key to “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) will be to experience the love that empowers us to speak the truth. It will be to find our identity in our Father’s love, not our culture’s affirmation or rejection. It will be to love the God who loves us and find in him the security to love others whether they love us or not.
To this end, here’s the question we should ask ourselves every single morning: If I were to be more in love with my Lord today than yesterday, what would need to change?
What is your answer today?