• Jonathan Shirk

See Color & Cherish It

Indigo buntings, blue jays, cardinals, scarlet tanagers, and Baltimore orioles are among my favorite birds. Bright blue, red, orange, and black, vibrant colors and contrasts making our experience of creation more vibrantly enjoyable.

One of my favorite paintings is the Oath of the Horatii by late 18th century painter Jacques-Louis David (see HERE). Several things strike me about the painting, one of which is the stunning use of varying colors and contrasts. The depiction of light and dark brings out accents of muscles, weapons, armor, and personal features.

In the spring and summer, I am quick to notice rich green and well manicured lawns. I love nice grass. Then there are the azaleas - red, pink, orange - beautiful. Kristina loves to walk around our house looking at our different plants in their vibrant blooms. My family also enjoys going to Longwood Gardens, a spectacular display of color and beauty.

Even black and white movies have varying shades. The shades make the moving picture meaningful and enjoyable. Would you want to go to the movies and watch a monochromatic and shadeless screen for two hours - "It was awesome! Two hours of solid white screen!" I'm out for that one. Give me color or at least black and white with varying shades.

We celebrate color. We prefer it. We desire it. Color enhances our lives in many significant ways. No one would choose to be colorblind. No one. Seeing color is a privilege, a blessing, a treasure, and appreciating it in many ways is instinctual. Why would anyone want to diminish or disdain the expression of God's "eternal power and divine nature" through color (Rom. 1:20)? Who would want to see the world without color or at least without some contrast?

Racism is "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different [skin color or ethnicity] based on the belief that one's own [skin color or ethnicity] is superior" (Oxford Dictionary). Why does racism exist? Easy. Human beings are inclined to hate God and their neighbor (HC 5). At the heart of racism is hatred of God, hatred of God's creative expression of color, and hatred of the human beings God made in His image. And racism is in all of our hearts and is a true global and spiritual pandemic. Racism is natural to the sinful human heart which instinctively says, "I'm better than you. Serve me." Whatever we are (e.g. ethnicity, sex, occupation, etc.), we have a natural tendency to think that what we are is best, superior, preferred, even of greater privilege in God's eyes, because quite frankly we are self-centered and selfish. That's natural for us. It is only when Christ gives us a new heart, transforms our heart, conforms our heart to his by his Holy Spirit, that racism dies in us and is replaced with a God-glorifying appreciation of color, a perspective that not only sees color, but also cherishes it.

I heard Voddie Bachaum preach years ago at a Desiring God conference in Minneapolis. Through the years I have our dear brother in Christ helpful on various topics including racism, ethnicity, ethnic Gnosticism, and racial reconciliation. Voddie has challenged me to think very differently, more carefully, Biblically, and consistently, to be more God-glorifying in how I think about "race" or ethnicity. In his book What He Must Be:...If He Wants to Marry My Daughter, Voddie says this:

I am a black man. Not only that, I am a very large, deep dark milk chocolate man. However, some people insist on saying that when they look at me they don't see color. I guess that's supposed to sound pious. However, when I hear that cliche, it doesn't sound pious at all. In fact, it sounds foolish. How dare we ignore the variety that God placed in creation! When I look at people of different ethnic backgrounds I see the handiwork of God. God did not make a mistake when he made me a black man. Nor did he do something that he meant for people to ignore.

Do you understand why saying "I don't see color" is foolish and inconsistent with Biblical Christianity? Can you see why trying to be colorblind when it comes to human beings is trying to shut out God's glorious expression of color and creativity? We need to change our thinking.

First, race does not actually refer to different skin colors. Think carefully. WebstersDictionary1828.com defines race as:

The lineage of a family, or continued series of descendants from a parent who is called the stock. A race is the series of descendants indefinitely. Thus all mankind are called the race of Adam...

One of my brothers in Christ from seminary, who happened to be black, challenged my thinking on this years ago. He said, "There's only one race - the human race." Asian, African, American, Hispanic, German, Russian, etc. are all one race because they are all human beings descended from one man and woman, Adam and Eve. In this sense (not a redemptive sense), we are all family. There is only one race, the human race. As colorful human beings, we are all image bearers of God. Somewhere along the lines our thinking and language got confused.

Second, skin color and ethnicity is something to see and cherish. It should go something like this: "I can see you are [insert skin color or ethnicity], and I not only appreciate that, I celebrate God's creativity and I love that about you!" Do you remember? "Red, brown, yellow, black, and white, they are precious in His sight." They should also be precious in our sight. We should not strive to stop seeing color, we should strive to see color more clearly and cherish it more deeply.

I do not follow the news closely at all, and I do not know many details and angles of current events, but the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are awful and grievous and display a significant problem. Racism continues to exist and the racial tension in our country is awful and grievous. Why? Because sin not only offends God, but it divides us and creates much pain. Apart from Christ, we don't see the world through the colorful and elucidating lens of general revelation, special revelation, the gospel. I don't think the problem is that we see color (as in it is good to try not to see color), but that we see color and fail to cherish it as God does and as God desires us to. With monochromatic and shadeless self-centeredness, we see color and feel threatened by it, resent it, oppose it, hate it, attack it, etc. This reveals our preoccupation with exalting ourselves. This is not only in America (e.g. Rwanda of 1994) and this is not a new problem (Gal. 2:11-14). We should see color and cherish it.

Look what sin does to us. Look at how our inclination to hate God and our neighbor manifests itself. It's awful. The love of God is not in it. Sin makes us monochromatic and shadeless only able to see and live for ourselves. What's the answer? It's not ultimately education, social activism, or media campaigns, though all those things have their rightful place. The ultimate and only sufficient answer to racism and social injustice is the unadulterated gospel of the life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the substitutionary and atoning means of rescue from the onslaught of God's righteous and furious wrath and judgment and the means of eternal life with God and the wonderfully colorful body of Christ. The answer is Christ, because the problem of racism and social injustice overflow from the heart, and the only one who can change the heart is Christ (Ezek. 36:22-38; 2 Cor. 5:17-21). Christ helps people see color and cherish it because he created it and cherishes it and redeems them to see and cherish it (Jn. 1:3; Heb. 1:2). Christ, by his Spirit at work in us, helps us see, think, feel, and act as he does (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49; Col. 3:10; 1 Jn. 3:2). Where Christ is, there is freedom, justice, and the love of color (Jn. 8:31-32; Rom. 8:2; 2 Cor. 3:17).

I love color in so many different facets of my life, and I want the grace and Spirit of God to produce in me a much greater appreciation for ethnicity, my own, and equally the ethnicity of others. I want to see color more than ever, but I want to cherish it more than ever as a way to more fully worship and serve my heavenly Father and others. I want any thread of racism to die in me as I put on Christ because I want to love God and love my brothers and sisters more deeply, who are wonderfully colorful people from all "nations, tribes, peoples, and languages" throughout the ages (Rev. 7:9). I want to see and cherish color so my relationships are deepened. I am not being sanctified by the Spirit of truth when I don't see color. I am being sanctified by the Spirit of truth when I do see color and increasingly cherish it.

We should not be colorblind Christians. We should see the full spectrum of color, admire color, honor color, and certainly cherish color. Why? Because as our dear brother in Christ Voddie reminds us, "When I look at people of different ethnic backgrounds I see the handiwork of God." When we see color and cherish it, it opens us up to a fuller expression of worship to God and a more fervent quest to understand, know, value, and enjoy others granting them the cherished gift of our honor, respect, affection, friendship, and love.

If we hold up a kaleidoscope and see one solid color, whether it be all black or all white, we know something is wrong. Perhaps the kaleidoscope is broken. We only enjoy kaleidoscopes when they show us a blast of moving colors. Color is their appeal. If we are in Christ and our eyes are seeing the world through Christ, we'll be able to see color and cherish it.

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