The True Color of Our Environment

You have probably seen many optical illusions before. Usually it is pretty easy to see how they work. I ran across one, however, that I still have a hard time believing is real. Have you ever seen this picture before? The squares labeled ‘A’ and ‘B’ are actually the same color.

If you don’t believe it, click here to see proof that they are, indeed, the same shade of gray.

This picture is designed to illustrate one simple thing: the environment an object is in shapes how we view it.

This is true of most things in life. The first example that should spring immediately to everyone’s mind is the recent trip the MU basketball team took to the Sweet 16. Remember back to the lead that Mizzou held over Memphis. With 2:15 left in the game we were up 6 points. Yet not a single Mizzou fan in the country was happy about the situation.

Why not? If you would have told me before the game that while playing for a chance to go to the elite eight against a top 5 team with the most wins in the country, the longest active winning streak, and some of the most athletic players in college basketball we would be holding a 6 point lead with 2:15 left I would have been ecstatic. But not one of us was in a good mood at the moment. (Don’t lie to yourself, you were as nervous as everyone else). The reason we were scared and not ecstatic is the context of the moment. Sure, we were ahead 6, but just 5 minutes prior we were ahead 12, and 8 minutes prior to that we were ahead 24. The 6 point lead didn’t seem so exciting when it was placed in the context of a 24 point point lead. We viewed it in a different shade of gray.

Another example of this truth at work is the perception we have of our own goodness. You and I are used to comparing ourselves to those around us: our friends, our family, our fellow church-goers, our colleagues. We see the standard of morality and righteousness (and sinfulness) that is par for the course and rank ourselves in comparison to that average. In certain circles the average is a little higher than in others. For example, if you or I were to drop into a mess hall of prison inmates, we may be the shining beacons of moral goodness in the room. Our gray may look very close to white. However, if we were dropped into a room of nuns serving with Mother Theresa in Calcutta, we might be a little less eager to share the naked truth of our moral condition. Our gray may look a little darker amongst the company.

CS Lewis (in a passage I cant currently find) asks a fascinating question: What if the moral expectations of our world as a whole has fallen so low that what passes for incredible moral achievement here would be the bare minimum expectation of decency in a more normal world? What if what passes for moral decency here – par for the course – would be viewed with disgust in a world that is functioning properly?

The truth of the matter is much closer to his suggestion than we ever realize. We are far more sinful than we know. The standard of God’s holiness is far more perfect than we can imagine. Acts of kindness and generosity that makes us proud of ourselves in this world are viewed from heaven as sad little attempts at righteousness that fall profoundly short of God’s intended design for human interaction.

We are surrounded by shades of gray that make us feel as though we are far whiter than we truly are. If we could see ourselves in the ACTUAL context of REAL righteousness – next to the blindingly bright purity of Christ – we would be appalled and ashamed at how dark, ugly and dirty we really are. We would be mortified.

I wouldn’t know this is true unless I had access to the revealed word of God. I would look around this world, I would study my context, my environment and conclude that I was a pretty good guy after all. I would have no notion of the idea that everything about our existence on this fallen planet is abnormal. I would think it is par for the course and that my pathetic little attempts at righteousness were heroic achievements. I would be confident that if God were to look in on my life he would be pleased. I would say idiotic things like “I am a pretty good person.”

Thank God for his word. Thank God for the message of the gospel. Thank God for revealing to me my true condition so that I can say with Paul, “What a retched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death, from the true color of my sinful soul?”

But so that I can also say, with Paul and all the saints through history who got it, who saw the true color of their soul and ran desperately to the God of grace,

“Thanks be to God for the white robe of Christ that covers my dark sin.”

Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete… (Rev 6:11)

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