Sports, and especially college football in the fall and early winter, have often provided a welcome respite from the slings and arrows of life – including politics.
Some of yesterday’s midterm election results, especially five losses for life in California, Michigan, Montana, Kentucky, and Vermont, may be leaving you a bit disheartened and discouraged. After all, as we’ve long insisted, electoral outcomes matter because policy impacts people and families. And when it comes to the sanctity of life, the sober and difficult reality is that when certain people are elected, and specific initiatives fail, the lives of innocent children are put at greater risk.
But an historic mural long associated with one of the most iconic teams on the collegiate gridiron can also serve to encourage and remind us that God remains fully and completely in control of every detail, everywhere.
Back in the early 1960s, school officials at the University of Notre Dame were looking for something to put on their newly constructed high-rise Memorial Library. The university’s president, Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, was concerned the windowless side of the building would make the new structure look like a grain elevator. Enter Millard Sheets, a popular painter and architectural designer who was making a name for himself wrapping California banks in eye-catching murals and paintings. Hundreds of his works survive across the country.
A member of the Claremont United Church of Christ in California, Sheets proposed and produced a massive mural of Jesus, which measures 132 feet high and 65 feet wide. It’s comprised of 5,700 individual pieces of granite in 140 different colors, all of which were mined from 16 foreign countries and 11 states. Jesus’ face alone contains 115 different stones. He named it, “The Word of Life,” and in addition to featuring Jesus, it also depicts Old and New Testament figures, as well as some of the most famous “thinkers” in world history. It was dedicated on May 7, 1964.
Beyond just a beautiful work of art, its connection to the library is designed to emphasize Jesus as the greatest of all instructors, symbolically ruling over all inside – and out.
A focal point of the campus, the mural is in direct line of sight with the school’s famed football stadium. And with it looming large over one of the endzones, and because the mural shows our Savior with both of His arms raised high, it was quickly nicknamed “Touchdown Jesus.”
The mixing of the sacred and the secular is common on the South Bend campus, but the symbolism of Jesus watching over a campus and a football stadium is a snapshot that should extend well beyond the famed Indiana school.
As Focus on the Family president Jim Daly noted in response to early returns, as Christians, “We are people of love and hope, and we have a responsibility to share Christ’s Good News with our family, neighbors and co-workers. We must demonstrate these Gospel principles by our actions and our speech.”
Electoral outcomes can frustrate us from time to time, though we as a society often receive who and what we deserve. But even when a majority of the electorate refuse to support the innocence of preborn life, we can still take heart knowing that Jesus is akin to that mural in South Bend. Regardless of how dark the country and the world may grow, Christ will always shine brighter.
Millard Sheets’ inspiration for the mural was based on the first five verses of the first chapter in the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Here is the best news of all: No election, no elected official and no ballot initiative that attempts to mock or distort God’s truth will ever outshine the light of Jesus in the world today.
Photo from John Farr.