I’ve always liked the art of Thomas Kinkade. A print of his painting “Mountain Chapel” sits on an easel in our entryway and I enjoy it every day. Thomas Kinkade died last Friday at the age of 54, too young and too soon. And there are too many things he didn’t get to fix before he died. There are questions surrounding his death, and there are questions surrounding his life. As I stood staring at my print this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder when the light began to fade in his life. Kindade was called “the painter of light.” When you went to a gallery to view his art, it was always displayed under lights with a dimmer switch. The sunlight, moonlight, candlelight or streetlamps in his pictures would change with the brightness of the light that was focused on them. I enjoyed looking at his art because his paintings made me wish I was standing with him when he thought, “I’m going to paint this.” I wanted to see that sunrise, or sit in that gazebo, or walk the streets of that city, or spend some time inside one of those small chapels. The events of the last few years of his life make me wonder. . .what robbed him of the light? It is worth thinking about. The Los Angeles Times reports that an autopsy will be performed this week, even though the cause of his death has been defined as “natural causes.” The questions exist because Kinkade was arrested in 2010 on a DUI charge and, at the time of his death, had been separated from his wife Nanette, the mother of his four girls, for a year. There had been rumors about his continued use of alcohol. Thomas Kinkade was also accused of fraud by many of his gallery owners. The L.A. times reported, “In the last decade he had been locked in legal battles with former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery owners, some of whom accused him in lawsuits of trading heavily on his Christian beliefs even as he drove them into financial ruin.” He was charged with fraud because his recent lifestyle did not support the testimony that surrounded his artwork.
It isn’t my place to judge the cloud that surrounds the death of Thomas Kinkade, and I don’t want to. I do however want to learn from his life. I’ve heard him speak, I’ve read his interviews and I’ve enjoyed his art. As I stood in front of my print this morning, I wondered if I would enjoy it less in the future. Did the failures of the artist negate his message? For me, the answer is no. Raise your hand if your testimony has not been fraudulent a time or two. (OK…put your hand down. The people in the office are probably wondering why you just did that!) Now, think about the apostle John’s words at the beginning of his gospel. John was writing about Jesus when he said, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:3-5). A lot of people still think last Sunday was about bunnies and brunch! There are a lot of us who are sending mixed messages too, and a lot of people in this world still do not understood the light. Later Jesus taught his disciples saying, “You are the light of the world. . . . let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Does the light of your testimony cause people to see Christ and praise the Father in heaven?
Thomas Kinkade painted light into his paintings, hoping to direct people’s thoughts toward God. I hope people will remember his accomplishments instead of his failures, but the truth is, they will probably remember both. The same will be true of our lives. But here is the difference. You and I are still alive. We still have the ability to shine with the light of Christ in this world. Not everyone will understand, but some will. As you go about your days and weeks, remember the joy of resurrection Sunday. Remember the grace that was given on that cross. Remember the hope that is yours because of the empty tomb. Then remember that YOU are the light of the world. People are looking at our deeds, and if our deeds are good, we will cause people to know Jesus and praise the Father in heaven.
A lot of people, like myself, enjoyed the artwork of Thomas Kinkade. I don’t know why he died, maybe we never will. But I do believe when he stepped into heaven he faced God’s perfect judgment and his perfect grace. So will we. And you and I still have the opportunity to “fix” things today. Thomas Kinkade was called “the painter of light.” Let your life be your canvas and know this: painting it with light, is a worthy goal for all of us as well!