By Gerald Cowan
God placed a mark on Cain that made him immediately recognizable (Gen. 4:15). We do not know what the mark was and it is pointless and idle to speculate. Sometimes the actions and activities of people leave marks that make them recognizable to others. For example: tobacco, alcohol, and other noxious drugs identify their users by sight and smell, and in other ways too. I wonder, would it be good for us if there were some universal mark or sign that would identify and declare every feeling, attitude, and intention – something that would immediately and accurately reveal what a person really is? What sign could be flexible and adaptable enough for the purpose? Color might serve such a purpose adequately.
We already use color to express a wide variety of ideas. The flag (often called “the colors”) is an identifiable symbol of the nation. When we say that some person “showed his true colors” we mean he revealed his true nature. “Traveling under false colors” is hypocrisy, deceit, disguise – pretending to be something or someone else. The request to “show your colors” means “identify yourself, declare yourself and your intention.” Colors can also symbolize conditions or intended actions. For example: a red flag means danger or stop. Amber means caution. Green means safety, or go. Flying special colors from a ship’s mast can indicate activity. Example: “Under colors as if to cast anchors from the bow” (Acts 27:30). We use colors to express moods, feelings, or attitudes. Pink for pleasure, red for embarrassment or shame (Ezra 9:6), white for fear, gray for anxiety, yellow for cowardice, green for jealousy or lust, blue for loneliness, purple for anger or rage or passion, brown for depression or gloom, and black for hatred or despair.
It might be good if we actually changed color as our mood or attitude changed, or when we intended to do certain things. There would be no deceit, no hiding of the truth from each other. Just think how easily a preacher could monitor the audience’s reaction to his sermons. The angry ones would turn purple, the pleased would be pink, the frightened would be pale white, the discouraged or depressed would be brown. What color would show up in the resentful? What color do you suppose the murderers of Stephen would have been when they stopped up their ears, gnashed their teeth, and stoned him to death (Acts 7:57-58). For that matter, what color would apply to those who crucified Jesus Christ? Color them insane. Suppose that when you questioned a person he turned true blue when he told the truth, or perhaps blushed red for shame when he lied. Of course some feel no shame about their lies and mistakes or their bad behavior (Jer. 8:12), and some have seared and scarred their own conscience so they can “lie with a straight face” – no blushing. But if the change of color was immediate and involuntary and consistent, then the truth or the lie would always be apparent and verifiable.
Let’s go a bit further with it. Suppose one actually turned green when he lusted for something he shouldn’t have, or when he envied the things of others. How would it be if one’s true feelings showed in his face each time he looked at a person of another race, nationality, social or economic position: black with hatred, gray with anxiety or distrust, yellow with fear, etc. What color would best illustrate love, concern, appreciation, interest, and sincerity? Perhaps clear or transparent, for guileless. I suppose indecision or uncertainty might appear as striped, checked, or mottled – but that would be helpful too.
No doubt you’ve been thinking that all of this is a bit far-fetched and unrealistic. It doesn’t happen, and isn’t going to happen. So color us all relieved. But the attitudes, feelings, and intentions are real even if the colors are not. Sometimes they are expressed in ways that can be monitored: the look in the eyes, the set of the chin or the body; perhaps there is a verbal response. But whether expressed or not, they are present; they are real; they must be dealt with. Some attitudes are wrong, no matter how well hidden they may be: such things as pride (Prov. 16:18), prejudice (James 2:9), jealousy and lust (Mt. 5:27 and James 4:2), hatred (1 John 2:9 and 4:20), etc. But because we are often able to keep them hidden from others we do not feel much pressure about correcting the wrong ones or strengthening those which are right and proper.
Someday, in the judgment of God, we will show our true colors – they will actually be displayed for us, whether we want it or not. We may be surprised at what we see in ourselves. “We must all be made manifest” (our lives revealed fully and displayed openly) before our Judge (2 Cor. 5:10 ASV). Some will say, “Lord, Lord we did not know.” (Mt. 7:21-22 and 22:41-46), but it will not change anything then.If I could choose the color I would want all of us to be it would be pure white: “washed and made white (pure, righteous, blameless) in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).