The Risk of Treasure

If it were possible to put together a museum that would house all of the world’s stolen art, it would be among the greatest collections of all time. In it, we would find works by Cezanne, Renoir, and da Vinci, 174 Rembrandts, 43 Van Goghs, and over 500 Picassos.

Whenever a painting is stolen—the brazen five painting heist from one of Paris's most prestigious museums in 2010 was perhaps the most recent--conversations about art theft and museum security start up once again. Simultaneous with the news of the robbery, headlines question the ease with which museums in general seem to make smash and grab jobs possible. "No treasure is truly safe," read the byline of one magazine. And the thieves tend to agree. "Thanks for the poor security," read a postcard attached to the empty wall where thieves had stolen an Edvard Munch painting in 1994.

Treasures outside the comforts of vaults or a safety deposit box exist uncomfortably before a world of thieves and potential disasters. But this is what museums do; they exist to show the treasures of Munch and Picasso and Renoir to as many people as possible. To hide the most valuable paintings of the world behind protected vaults and darkened safes would itself be a different kind of theft.

Jesus once noted, "No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light." When a group of wiggly, grinning kids sings proudly of their "little lights" and their determination to "let them shine," it lands in my mind somewhere between captivated and cynical. Of course, they don't fully understand what they are saying. The fog of life's questions and uncertainties, the daggers often aimed at Christian beliefs and believers, are realities that have not yet threatened the shining of their little lights. And yet, the boldness with which they announce, "Hide it under a bushel; No!" is as convicting as it is hopeful. In the mouth of a child, we hear that simple logic of which Jesus spoke. Like the great works that hang in museums despite the dangers, light shines because it must.

When treasures are under attack or danger is perceived, our tendency is to retreat to the safety of a lockbox. I have a beautiful quilt made by my great grandmother that sits locked away in a cedar chest because I am horrified by the thought of moths and stains. Its value seems to beg me to hide it, even though I am saddened by its hiddenness. There have been times when I have felt similarly about my faith, longing to retreat when questions feel threatening, or the fog of a fallen world is overwhelming. When moth, rust, and thieves seem to loom, I want the bowl and not the lamp stand.

But today the thought of the imaginary museum of missing paintings reminds me of the great chasm that exists between hidden treasure and treasure on display despite the risk. In the hands of a thief, a painting is calculated in dollars. But for the true lovers of art, for the artist himself, the longing is for art to be seen. The same assurance applies for lovers of the one who first called them out of darkness. Though I grow weary of holding light, though I falter in confidence or grow fatigued with questions, though sorrow leaves frustration, I can no sooner imagine Christ hiding from the world than a world without the sun and stars themselves. The light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ is a treasure he came to brazenly display.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

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