The Voyage of Life: A Movement toward Eternity

What if we saw our lives as a movement toward eternal life?

Many of us get bogged down in the details of each day. We hardly remember what day of the week it is, let alone our purpose in life. We forget how quickly time passes in the stream of life, holding on to fleeting dreams that slip through our fingers. But there is more to life than this temporal age.

Thomas Cole’s painting series The Voyage of Life reorients us. It allegorizes the life of one individual as he passes from infancy to youth to adulthood to old age. The transitions of the paintings reflect how life changes with the passing of time. He begins in innocence, moves to the overconfidence of youth, transitions to self-doubt in adulthood, and finally sees purpose in the midst of the trials of old age.

The fourth painting depicts the end of the individual’s life. No longer do we see the rosy light of childhood, nor even the dark dusk of adulthood. Now we see the gloom of clouds. But that is not the focus of this painting. Instead, a glorious light breaks through, a reminder that God will sovereignly bring us to His kingdom. The traveler no longer has any interest in this world—as time runs out, he looks to eternity.

Watch part 7 in a teaching series based on the themes of Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life. These four paintings depict the cyclical dynamics of human life, as signified by the artwork’s titles: ChildhoodYouthManhood, and Old Age. You can view these paintings in person at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The Voyage of Life: A Movement toward Eternity