BLACK BUT BEAUTIFUL
By Pastor Glenn Pease
A woman who stalled at the corner watched the traffic light go from red to yellow to green, and again, red, yellow, green. After several times a policeman went up to the side of the car and said politely, "What's the matter lady, ain't we got any colors you like?" She didn't have any choice, but when we do have a choice, colors make a big difference in whether we go or stay, in many ways. Color determines most of our shopping habits.
A meat market which had sold the choices meats for years had its display room repainted. The management expected an increase in business as a result. Instead, business began to fall off. They called in experts to find out why. A color specialist detected the problem. It was their color scheme. They had painted the walls bright yellow, not realizing that when you look at red after looking at yellow, there is a blue after image. People looked at the red meat and it looked bluish. This made them think it was spoiling, and they bought less. After they painted the walls blue-green, the red looked redder than ever, and sales went up.
Studies have proven that color has a very definite psychological effect on what we enjoy in life. Food must look good to us to taste good. An experimental banquet was arranged with the most appetizing foods available for all the guests. Special lights were installed so the colors of the food were changed. The steaks were gray, the celery pink, the eggs blue, the milk blood-red, and coffee was yellow. Most of the guests lost their appetite immediately, and those who forced themselves to eat became ill afterward. The food would have been enjoyed under proper lighting, but the mirror change in color made it unpalatable. It proved that we eat with our eyes as well as with the sense of taste and smell.
Color effects us in numerous ways. We are programmed to respond to certain colors in certain ways by our training. Red can make a bull charge, for it stirs up the emotion of anger. The same thing use to happen to a zealous anti-Communist when he saw the red flag. Red is a color that stirs up emotion. It is a action color. A man who drives a bright red car is telling us something of how he feels. He wants to be on the move, and like a red fire engine, he wants to be where the action is. Nobody ever paints the town green. It is always red, for red, like fire, is wild and on the move.
Green, on the other hand, is the color of rest. The quietness of the cemetery is in the color green. Forest Lawn and Gardens of Rest are names connected with green and grass. Dr. C. W. Valentine in Psychology Of Beauty, tells of a test in London which revealed that red is the favorite color of youth, but green advances in rank right along as people get older, until it becomes number 1. The older people get the more they delight in rest, and the more they prefer the color green. F. W. Borham, the great Australian preacher, said when Mrs. Alexander wrote the song, A Green Hill Far Away, "She displayed a flash of real psychological and spiritual insight. Calvary allures the weary. Tried hearts love the lawn."
The Bible is full of color symbolism. From the rainbow above the Ark of Noah to the rainbow around the throne of God, the Bible is a book of color. It is like Joseph's coat of many colors. How we think about color is important, for this affects our attitude and our actions.
It's what you think that makes the world
Seem sad or gay to you;
Your mind may color all things gray,
Or make them radiant hue.
This is especially true for us to day when we think of the color black. To some, black is beautiful, but to others it is ugly. In our study of the Song of Songs we will come across many descriptions of the male and female lovers, but it is of interest that the first reference, here in verse 5, is a reference to color. The Shulamite girl says, "I am black but comely." She is saying, I am black but beautiful. What commentators see here all depends on how they interpret color. If black always means evil to you, then you will see here, as many do, a negative description. Black has come to be associated with sin and evil. We have terms like black market, black magic, black sheep, black list, black balled, and on and on it goes with black always as a negative color.
William Pannell, a black staff member of Youth For Christ, says, the very language we use hinders race relations among Christians. In Sunday school classes teachers will put a row of little black figures, he says, and explain that these are the sinners, and black represents the sinful heart. It is no wonder that children grow up with a fear of black people, when this color is always associated with what is evil. John Hefley, who wrote a story of Wycliff Translators, suggests that Christians ought to stop using black in a way that the Bible does not use it, for it promotes prejudice.
The color of sin in the Bible is not black, it is scarlet. Isa. 1:18 says, "Come now, let us reason together says the Lord: Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool." The contrast is not between black and white, but red and white. White is very clearly a color which is symbolic of purity and righteousness. In heaven the saints will wear the white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. However, just as black can be both negative and positive, so white also can be negative and evil. The white spots of leprosy were terribly frightening, and there were many laws to avoid any contact with
this whiteness which was unclean. Jesus in Matt. 23:27 says, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like white washed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." Paul said to the high priest in Acts 23:3, "God shall strike you, you white washed wall."
When it comes t color symbolism, we must recognize that the meaning can very with the context. Centuries ago St. Bernard recognized this when he preached on this black but beautiful girl. He said, "Not everything which is black is necessarily on that account ill-favored. For instance, blackness in the pupil of the eyes is not unbecoming. There are black gems which are highly prized in ornaments, while black hair contrasted with a pale complexion augments the beauty and charm of the face."
Numerous commentators fail to see this girl is dark because of a deep suntan, and so they see a negative in her black skin. Today women will lie in the sun for hours to get their white skin darker, because it is a sign of greater activity and beauty. The Shulamite girl was a farmer girl. She worked out in the sun, and she was a great contrast to the ladies of Solomon's court, who were sheltered and lily white. They looked upon her as radically different because of her dark skin. She does somewhat apologize for her skin. She explains why it was she got so much sun. It is folly to read into this that she is confessing that she is sinful, and that her black skin refers to that fact. However, numerous commentators insist that black is evil and that this is a confession of her sinful nature. Lebotz, a modern commentator writes, "A true picture of the natural man living in the natural light, not realizing that daily he becomes blacker and more stained with sin."
Matthew Henry also sees here a reference to the church, blackened by sin, failure, and sorrow. The black but beautiful is a reference to being black by nature, but beautiful because of redemption from that sinful nature. The poet puts this view-
I'm sinful, yet I have no sin;
All spotted o'er, yet wholly clean.
Blackness and beauty both I share,
A hellish black; a heavenly fair.
The problem with always finding a sinful meaning in the color black is that if you are consistent, you end up contaminating even our sinless Savior, for later on in this love song there is the famous passage which describes the Shepherd lover, who is symbolic of our Lord. In 5:11 it says of him, "His head is the finest gold, his locks are wavy, black as a raven." He is tall, dark, and handsome, this lover, who is fairest among ten thousand. Black is beautiful here, and can never be seen as anything other than beautiful. There is no way to connect this black with sin.
The Shulamite girl may have been self-conscious about her scorched skin before all the pale beauties in Solomon's court, but her lover does not consider it a defect. In verse 8 he calls her the fairest among women. Her dark skin set her apart as far as was concerned, and in verse 9, which many feel is Solomon's flattery to her, he too is impressed with her beauty, and detects no defect in her darkness. An ancient poem shows that men saw beauty in dark skin, even if some pale women didn't like it. Theocritus wrote,
Charming Bambyce, thought some call you thin,
And blame the tawny color of your skin;
Yet I the luster of your beauty own
And deem you like Hyblaem honey-brown.
In the light of the male response to the beauty of the Shulamite, the apology for her blackness has to be seen in the context of her speaking to the daughter of Jerusalem. Then, it can be seen that she is simply saying, do not scorn me. I know I have been over exposed, and I am not as feminine looking as you. I am a country girl, and you are city girls. I have had to labor under difficult conditions. She describes how her angry brothers forced her to keep the vineyards. She is like poor Cinderella who is stuck with the menial jobs, and she is all dirty and unkempt, while the others prepare for the ball.
It is unfair, and abuse of Scripture to give symbolic meaning to words that are being used literally, and not as symbols. As a symbol, the whole world agrees that black stands for the negative, and white stands for the positive. All races use white as a positive symbol. Even the black tribes of Africa use white to symbolize wisdom and purity. The blacks of Northern Rhodesia associate good luck with white, and misfortune with black. In other words, as symbols, even the blacks use black as negative and white as positive.
However, when color is not being used as a symbol, but simply as a fact, it can be use-ful and beautiful even if it is black. Yellow when used symbolically means chicken or cowardly, but who because of that will deny the beauty of yellow in the flowers of creation, or in the beauty that man can produce with yellow? So it is with black. Black print on white paper is the foundation for most all of our reading, including the Bible. What color is the Word of God? It is black in most Bibles. God's truth reaches our minds primary though black words. No one feels black in this context has any symbolic meaning that is negative. Covers of Bibles are often black, and no one sees any relationship to the negative or evil.
Since there is not the slightest hint in the context to indicate any negative meaning, and since the males in the story feel the Shulamite is a flawless beauty, it is wrong to read into this use of black the sin and evil that so many commentators do. She is simply sensitive to her deep suntan in comparison to the whiteness of the ladies of the court. Positive thoughts should be read into the text, rather than negative ones that encourage the problem of prejudice. Instead of seeing black in conflict with white, we should look at how they compliment each other.
When Piccard first went up into the stratosphere he used a black gondola. Black absorbs heat, and the result was, the temperature in the gondola went up to 100 degrees. On his second trip he used a white gondola, and because white reflects heat the temperature went below the freezing point. After that, gondolas were made half black and half white. The black absorbed enough heat to keep it warm, and the white reflected enough heat to keep it from getting too warm. Black and white together gave the needed balance for comfort.
What color is appropriate does not depend upon their symbolic meaning, but upon what their function is in God's natural law. God made both black and white useful for different things. Since black absorbs heat, members of polar expeditions learned that they could keep their drinking water from freezing by painting the water bags black. The outside air could be 20 below zero, yet the black bags would absorb the heat of the sun, and keep the water unfrozen. It was a life saver, and many an explorer could look at his dull water bag and honestly say, "Black but beautiful."
On the hand, if heat is the problem, then white is the color for comfort. White horses do not suffer from the heat like black ones do. Black beauty may have been black but beautiful, but the Lone Ranger's white stallion felt more beautiful on a hot day. When the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, those who were wearing white clothing were not burned nearly as bad as those with colored clothes. White had the power to reflect even the terrific heat of an atomic explosion. People who wore patterns were burned deep, but white garments gave only surface burns.
This fact about color and heat may very well explain why all creatures in heaven wear white. Angels are always portrayed in white, and the saints in heaven will be clothed in white. This is not only because of the symbolic meaning of purity, but for protection from the glory of God. Without white we would be consumed by His infinite glory. It is only speculation, of course, but the very heat of hell could be caused by the fact that the lost are not clothed with the white robes of righteousness, but with the dark and filthy rags of their own sinfulness. Their blackened souls burn with the absorbed heat from the glory of God. Just as the sun is the source of both the life of the garden, and the death of the desert, so God's glory is the source of both the light of heaven, and the heat of hell. What we know about the nature of colors supports this speculation.
Symbolically, Jesus became black that we might be cleansed and be made white. In II Cor. 5:21 we read, "For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus became black with our sin, and took upon Himself the heat of hell that we might receive garments washed in His blood, and made white, which protects us from that heat. We are to be ever getting whiter as Christians until we are, as the Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle, and ready to face the fullness of His glory. In II Cor. 3:18 Paul says, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another."
This means that even though the believer is still tainted with sin, and not yet ready to enter the marriage banquet, he is seen as black but beautiful in the eyes of Him who is the fairest of ten thousand. Many in His body are literally black, but apart of His Bride is also red, yellow, and white, because Christ is the author of all colors. He does not look on the outward appearance, but He looks on the heart, and His love is not in any way determined by color. Christ died for all colors, and therefore, no matter what the color, or how dark the past, those who put their trust in Christ are in His eyes always black but beautiful.