What This Painting of Jesus Teaches About Good Stories
Most of the imagery involving Jesus depict him as being a divine being that radiates — spiritually and literally. But Christ in the Wilderness by Ivan Kramskoi shows Him in another light — or (almost) the lack thereof.
He reminds me of myself after a long, emotionally grueling day. It’s a far more relatable image of the Messiah than one of Him suffering on the cross.
Why It Resonates with Me
I was raised Catholic and taught in many homilies and religion classes that Jesus’s sacrifices were unbelievable. It was an unmatched act of love.
Now, I don’t question the unbearable pain of being whipped, wearing a crown of actual thorns, and having nails hammered through your palms. Just imagining it feels horrible. That said, if I were meant to connect with Him, there on the cross, I’ve never felt like I got close.
But the painting shows Jesus going through another struggle. There isn’t some epic fight with flashing colors and exciting action. It’s a quiet painting. He looks as if he’s fighting some kind of invisible war, maybe one that Tyler Durden might call a Spiritual War. It’s the kind of unseen mental and emotional assault millions of people today continue fighting.
This detail highlights an important element in what makes a good story a good story (not a typo). It isn’t about the visual scale of the thing, but how close it gets to delicate and unique human experiences.
Why Stories Resonate With Us
Matthew Dicks is an author and professional storyteller. He proclaimed to the audience of his TED Talk that he’s lived a crazy life:
- He’s medically died twice.
- He’s been held up at gunpoint, with the gun pointed at him while he kept his cheek pressed firmly on the cold tile floor of a Mcdonald’s.
- He spent years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
You might think it makes sense he’d be a great storyteller; a life like that will definitely produce fun tales to share with your friends. But those moments aren’t why he’s so captivating to listen to, and he knows that.
He explains that, although those are crazy moments, not many people can resonate with him. Not many people listening to his stories are whispering to themselves, “I remember when I went to jail for a crime I didn’t commit.” It just isn’t a common enough experience.
So, instead, he tells stories about more relatable moments:
- A time when he thought he was having it rough but quickly learned that someone else had it worse.
- A time when he realized how important his friends are to his life.
- A time when he learned how much his wife loves him and he loves his wife.
These are small moments in his life that touch on common human experiences. If you look back on your life, I’m sure you’ll find a moment where you felt like you lost something or someone valuable; when you fell completely in love with someone; or when you were proven wrong.
They might not have the scale of getting held at gunpoint, but it can often be even more emotionally captivating. These are core experiences that remind us of our flawed humanity.
It’s why Christ in the Wilderness is my favorite painting. There’s nothing flashy about it. It’s an image of a man looking exhausted from internal problems. How human is that?