Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait

Vincent van Gogh. Self-Portrait, 1887. The Art Institute of Chicago.

In the middle of a large wall in the Art Institute of Chicago hangs a small painting. It is a sixteen-by-thirteen-inch self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh. Twice I have stood in front of the canvas, and each time I have been chilled to the bone….

His eyes—hollow, weary, and anguished—follow me wherever I go and bore into my heart. If the whole life of a person can be seen in the eyes, then van Gogh must have lived a tortured existence.

Indeed, as a young man, van Gogh was estranged from his father and married a prostitute. He took up painting but sold only one work during his lifetime, and that for a pittance. He suffered from severe depression and mental instability: two days before Christmas in 1888 he sliced off the lower lobe of his left ear and presented it as a gift at a brothel.

Van Gogh painted over thirty self-portraits. They were, I believe, his way of crying out for help….

Looking into his eyes, I feel him asking, “Why didn’t you tell me?” A lump forms in my throat and blood rushes to my face. Then the question sharpens, “Why didn’t you tell me about life . . . about how good life can be?”

A whisper forms on my lips, “Please forgive me. I am so sorry.”

… Today there are Vincent van Goghs all around us, hundreds of them, thousands of them, with weary souls and troubled hearts, people yearning for satisfaction in life but finding mostly disappointment. You can see it—you can always see it—in their eyes. 

What do you say to people who have yet to discover fullness of life? You tell them the truth. Jesus Christ promised life and promised it in abundance. Moreover, he has done everything in his matchless power to fulfill the promise…. 

In the combined work of the cross and the resurrection, he purified hearts and fitted them to be vessels of his life. It is a life overbrimming with love, power, truth, peace, goodness, righteousness, comfort, and joy….

When we give our lives to Christ, he gives his life to us. Better yet, he gives his life in us. When we become Christians, he fills us with himself.

Savage, Tim (2019) Discovering The Good Life: The Surprising Riches Available in Christ. Crossway, pp 72-73.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 6. The full text can be found at or

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