For this is my Father's will: that all who see the Son and believe in him will have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.
John 6:40

The Doge’s Palace (Il Palazzo Ducale), Venice

Between high school and college, I took the year off to find myself. Where on Earth had I been for eighteen years?
I spent the first ten months in Australia, working odd jobs in all six states and the Northern Territory, then a few weeks in Japan, and finally Europe for a month before heading home. My adventures in Europe included riding a bicycle from Frankfurt to Munich, hitch-hiking through the Austrian Alps, working as a dishwasher at a ritzy hotel on the shores of Lago di Garda in northern Italy—and now, touring Venice with a backpack and camera.
Il Palazzo Ducale was on everyone’s list of places to see, and it was splendid enough. But what really caught my eye as I walked through the ornately decorated rooms and corridors was a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, Ascent of the Blessed. I stood in front of that painting for several hours, drawn in particular to the circle of light leading out of the netherworld. I could somehow feel that those souls being taken toward the light were about to experience something that “no eye had seen, nor ear heard, nor mind imagined...” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Not that I knew that scriptural reference; I did not. But I wanted to step into the light. I wanted to see what was on the other side.
I was not a Christian; I didn’t pray; I didn’t read the Bible. By means of Bosch’s painting, however, I had somehow caught a glimpse of the Divine. The painting, you might say, had allowed me to “see” Jesus. And not just “see” him but to long for him with “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8). It’s still hard to put into words, but I felt a longing that day to be with God. I felt myself falling in love with him. And even though years would pass before I bowed the knee to his Lordship, my heart was pricked open that day. Something changed deep inside me.

And what triggered it? A painting on an oak wood panel, performed with human hand more than four-hundred and fifty years before.
One of my heroes of the literary world, Fyodor Dostoevsky, had a similar experience (if I might be allowed to make the comparison). In August 1867, he and his new wife, Anna Snitkina (she was also his stenographer), had traveled on a much-needed holiday to Geneva. More than a honeymoon, the newlyweds sought to escape family tensions and the incessant demands of Fyodor’s creditors.

On the way to Geneva, they stopped in Basel to visit the local museum where a famous—and controversial—painting by Hans Holbein the Younger was on display.

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb was painted with oil and tempera on limewood in roughly the same time period as Ascent of the Blessed. And funny enough, Fyodor had a reaction to the Dead Christ not dissimilar to the one I had upon viewing Bosch’s work. Anna wrote later that while the stark realism of the Dead Christ had “horrified” her, it had “so deeply impressed Fyodor that he pronounced Holbein the Younger a painter and creator of the first rank.” And then, in his desire to study the painting more thoroughly, Fyodor pulled over a museum chair and stood on it for a closer look, causing Anna to panic, and putting her “in a terrible state lest he should have to pay a fine.” Poor Anna. Too bad she couldn’t have met my dear wife, Cheryl, who often finds herself in similar straits keeping an eye on her “artist husband” who does “crazy, spur-of-the-moment things!” They could have commiserated with each other.

Holbein's The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.

Two years later, Fyodor published The Idiot. The book’s hero was the Christ-like Prince Myshkin, who early in the novel finds himself looking at Holbein the Younger’s painting, commenting that “A man’s faith might be ruined by looking at that picture!”
For Dostoyevsky, however (as was true for Prince Myshkin), Holbein the Younger’s unsparing depiction of Christ’s death only made the Resurrection more marvelous and inspiring!
Allow me another story.

The Hagia Sophia

In 2005, I stood inside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey looking up at the centuries old Deësis mosaic of Christ Pantocrator (Christ in Majesty). The mosaic was created with tesserae, tiny bits and fragments of colored glass, pebbles and gold. I was transfixed by the sublime mosaic and began looking for Dostoyevsky’s chair to stand on for a better look! I stayed there for hours, unwilling to move. And I was far from alone in my admiration. Tourists from all over the world passed in front of the mosaic in respectful silence. So did groups of Turkish schoolchildren. What were they thinking? I’ll never know. In my own heart, I had the sense that the Christ figure in the mosaic was imbued with true life and spirit; that he was looking at me as though he knew me, knew all about me! I had the profound impression that I was seeing Jesus, just as was written in John 6:40. 

Christ the Pantocrator

As a filmmaker, I try to help people “see” Jesus… to discern his presence in the story… intuit him through a character… hear him wooing them through the music… or challenging them through the main character’s struggles and sacrifice. It’s a representation to be sure, likely an allegory pointing to God’s truth beyond, but for many—if not most—it’s the only way to travel.

And you, my friend?
Whether you “see” Jesus in a film or painting, or sense his presence in a piece of music; whether you hear him talking in the majestic voice of a lion in a children’s book, or a little man with big feet who seeks to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, one thing is certain. You cannot truly see Jesus and remain unchanged. He will get into your heart! And that is a good thing. That is the best thing that could ever happen to you. Because if you see him and believe in him, you will have eternal life and he will raise you up on the last day.

From my heart to yours,

We are pleased to be able to continue to bring you free screenings of our films in the safety of your own homes during this pandemic. More Than Dreams tells the true-life stories of several people of Muslim background who encountered Christ in dreams and visions. "Dini's Story" is our selection for this month.

We are thrilled to announce that our recent fundraising drive was a success. $15,000 in pledges from donors was fully matched by supporters like you. We now have the resources necessary to cover operational costs for the remainder of 2020 as well as a portion of ongoing pre-production expenses associated with the making of The Puzzle Factory.
Thank you for your support! And if you wanted to make a contribution last month but were unable to do so, you can still make a tax-deductible gift.

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Cristóbal Krusen is a filmmaker and author. He founded Messenger Films in 1988.

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