Colour; more to the picture than meets the eye!

My friend Paul VanderKlay just posted this on his FB page; “This week’s Radiolab is something that John Van Sloten MUST do a sermon on.” (Here’s a link ).

After listening to the program, I think he’s right. The show’s hosts had me at the two and a half minute mark with, “Is the light without or is the light within?” A scientist on the show figured it was both (and surely the Kingdom of God is both within us and around us).

The program is all about colour perception; how it varies for different species (and people). Dogs are bi-chromates (their eyes have two cones enabling them to see blue/yellow and black/white), most humans are tri-chromates (enabling us to seem many more colours), some butterflies have five cones and can see an even broader range, and the mantis shrimp, amazingly, has sixteen cones! (If you saw one you’d think their multi-chromatic capacity had literally gone to their heads). So while all these different species might be looking at the same thing, some would see more colours than others; who, “though seeing, they do not see…” Jesus in Matthew 13:13, TNIV

This past Sunday I began my sermon by asking, “Do you ever wonder how much of God’s presence in your life you miss?” (I used Duccio’s Jesus healing the Man Born Blind as my powerpoint background).  We looked at the stories of Mary Magdalene in the garden, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Peter and John in the boat post resurrection (Jn 21). In each narrative a person(s) had Jesus standing right in front of them, and (for a time) had no idea who they were looking at. Spiritual spectrum disorder (SSD).

If we really believe in an omnipresent, sovereign, providentially moving, holding the universe together by his Holy Spirit, God, who wants us to know and experience his presence – to see – then surely we must be missing a lot; in fact, most of what’s really going on. Because of sin, we’re a few cones short of a full perceptive capacity.

So taking in the Radiolab program my question became, “How might the science of studying varying colour receptivities inform the problem of spiritual colour blindness?”

One scientist worked with monkeys (who cannot see red) and did experiments where he injected red cones into the monkey’s eyes. The monkey’s saw red for the first time!  Imagine that.  Noting their simian delight, the researcher said, “I did get some sense that they felt like their life had improved.” I felt the same when God first touched my eyes. Perhaps God felt it too?

Apparently there are women who have extra sensory perception when it comes to colour (or at least the potential). Because the ability to see colour is carried in the X chromosome (and women get two), there are rare cases where the ability to see colour is enhanced (tetra-chromates… with and extra yellow cone… like the new Sanyo TV!). It’s true. I’ve met these women before. They perceive reality far more vividly than I do. Women like Dorothy Sayers, Ann Voskamp, Rachel Held/Evans, Margaret Feinberg and my wife.  Jesus’ eyes – in full submission to his Father – must have seen with such brilliance; full spiritual spectrum.

The real tetra chromates, however, even though they were genetically capable of seeing more colours, were tested, and didn’t seem to be able to perceive to their inherent visual capacity (hmmm…  falling short, missing the mark). One scientist theorized that perhaps they just needed to learn how to wield their perceptive gifts; would artists or florists – people who work with many different, tones, colours and shades on a more frequent basis – be best equipped to develop their colour perception?  And would people who pray, read the bible, meditate on the presence of God be best equipped to see the richness and multi-chromatic glory of the kingdom?

The show then went on to talk about a “perfect yellow”…  didn’t find any spiritual connection there. (I’ve said enough already about Van Gogh, and how when he painted yellow he said he was painting the presence of God)

And then they spoke about the possibility of people in ancient civilizations (the Greeks/Homer, Icelandic & Chinese literature, Vedic hymns, the bible (ancient Hebrew)) not having colour perception capacities like we have today. ie: none of these ancient peoples mention the colour blue. Blue was the last colour to be perceived as languages developed (red was first). Perhaps it was because you don’t need a word for a colour until you made things of that colour (only the Egyptians had the word), and a lot of things weren’t made of blue back then.  Even today some African tribes can’t see blue (vs green) when tested. They think, because they don’t have a word for blue, they don’t see it. Things got abstract at that point in the radiolab program; does having the word for blue enable the capacity to perceive blue?  How does language affect perception?  Does the fact of Jesus Christ (the word incarnate) enable us to better and more frequently perceive God?

Or maybe the colour blue was so ubiquitous to those ancient worlds (filling the the sky and the sea) that it didn’t need a word. God is everywhere. Maybe that’s another reason why the ancient Hebrews never said his name.

(my thoughts Paul… not sure I fully captured preaching colour… would need more research to preach it)












2 thoughts on “Colour; more to the picture than meets the eye!

  1. Zaak

    Yeah, that would be a pretty good sermon. I find graphic designers view colours in far more perceptive ways than I do; I always envied graphic designers.

    btw: Some typos in the paragraph that starts “Apparently there are some people women who…”

Comments are closed.