Vincent van Gogh, Joseph and Living in Contrast

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Isaiah 40:26

People have experienced Van Gogh’s Starry Night in different ways, so it has been interpreted in different ways. One interpretation suggests that the painting is related to Joseph’s (in the Old Testament) description of his dream that he shares with his jealous brothers: 

“Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” Genesis 37:9

There are eleven stars in the painting, so maybe Van Gogh was thinking of Joseph’s 11 brothers as he painted. To his brothers, Joseph was a dreamer and an outcast and spent several years in prison. Van Gogh considered himself an outcast and dreamer in the world of art, and painted Starry Night from an asylum. Maybe he could relate to Joseph. 

Whether or not Starry Night is a direct reference to Joseph’s story, we can see contrast in both. The stars contrast with a gloomy village, the light contrasts with darkness, and hope contrasts with despair. Joseph provides an example of living in bright contrast during dark and difficult experiences. 

The church is a contrast society.  As individuals we can live in contrast to people who lack hope, understanding and joy. We can be that light on a stand (Matthew 5:13). As a church, we can live in contrast to the division, anger and isolation that are prevalent in the world. We can be that “town built on a hill that cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). 

About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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