Religions other than Christianity often see life as a meaningless cycle. We experience birth, growth, decay, and death, and then the cycle restarts. There is no goal, no telos, to such a cycle. Christianity, on the other hand, gives us a new insight into life and death. We see this through the symbolism portrayed by the Celtic cross. These crosses visually affirm that Jesus Christ has overcome the cycle of life and death, showing that He is the One who conquers cultures.
We see these same themes of the cycle of a person’s life in Thomas Cole’s The Course of Empire series. Human nature and advancement is always precarious. But as Christians, we can look to Jesus for our hope. He is the Lord of space and time, and He rules over all places and all times. Through His crucifixion and resurrection, He has defeated death and chaos, and He has given us hope of eternal life with Him.
Watch part 2 in a teaching series based on Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life. These four paintings depict the cyclical dynamics of human life, as signified by the artwork’s titles: Childhood, Youth, Manhood, and Old Age. You can view these paintings in person at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.