There are many ladders, rising from a woods that likely provided the branches for their construction. Each is rickety, rough-hewn, and does not inspire confidence that it would sustain the weight of the human being who was its craftsman. While the ladders stretch toward the stars, even the tallest barely reaches above the trees. That is the picture of futility we see in the bottom third of Donald Furst’s woodcut, “High Way.”
There is another ladder at the top of the image. It is pure white and perfectly formed – its right angles contrasting with the skewed rungs of the ladders below. Where they are reaching up, this ladder is descending, like Jacob’s ladder that linked heaven and earth. Indeed, its purity and perfection suggests it is of divine construction.
Above the trees is a field of stars. They seem to vary in intensity, but they share a common shape. The stars are all cruciform; the sky is filled with little crosses.
All aspects of the image combine to provide an artful presentation of spiritual truth. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
The rickety ladders in Furst’s woodcut are of human workmanship. They strive to reach a goal they can never attain. Salvation comes not through human works from below but through divine grace from above. God must provide it to us, as He provided Jacob’s ladder on which the angels ascended and descended.
But what is this ladder that will bridge the gap from earth below to heaven above? The stars provide the answer, as their cruciform shapes point us to Christ. Jesus drew on the image of Jacob’s ladder when He said to Nathanael:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
Jesus Himself is the ladder upon which heaven comes to earth. On the cross, He defeated sin, death, and the devil, so that we might enter into heavenly life that begins now and will be consummated when heaven and earth are united in a new creation at His return.
The choice facing each human being is between trusting in his or her own works to reach heaven or trusting in the work of Jesus whom God has provided as the ladder of salvation. Each of us must answer the question posed by Furst’s image: My way or the High Way?
High Way, by Donald Furst. Woodcut. 13 x 8 inches. Used by permission of the artist. (www.donaldfurst.com)