Dark Palette

There was a pretty interesting discussion going on over at The Worship Community following the review I wrote for them on Christian George's new book, Godology. If you haven't checked it out, go over and read it.

Much of the discussion centered on "classical" interpretations of the mechanics of the Incarnation - exactly what Jesus was when he walked the Earth; man, God, both. More importantly, which attributes of each did he demonstrate?

The fire began when I quoted something Christian had written:

"Jesus understands what it’s like to be in our skin. He walked a mile not only in our shoes, but also in our feet.” “…He felt the rush of adrenaline and the sneeze of a cold. He suffered from fears and doubts, and maybe ingrown toenails and acid indigestion.”

Whoa! Doubt?

Apparently this ruffled a feather or two. Which is fine; that's what discussion boards, forums and comments exist for - to foster discussion and dialog. And this post is not going to tackle the Council of Chalcedon, kenosis or anything else discussed in the comment thread. That discussion took place there.

I want to talk about the balance that should be struck between knowledge and wisdom. First off, please know that they are two different things. This is why we have two different words for them. Knowledge can be defined as the gathering and collecting of information. Wisdom, however, should be defined as the ability to take into account all factors, and assign each its due weight. In other words, just because one knows a thing, does not necessarily make that thing important.

Wisdom tempers knowledge with experience. This is difficult task in this day and age. What only a quarter century ago would have taken days, weeks or months of painstaking research can now be had at the click of a mouse. Knowledge from the great libraries of the world are at our fingertips. But it is a two-edged sword. Which is easier, when faced with a challenge: to spend time figuring it out, or to simply Google the solution? (I am guilty of this myself; I find I have no patience for word-descrambling puzzles when the answer is temptingly close.) Instant knowledge is a good thing, but one must remember the mind is a muscle, and it has to be exercised. Creative, critical thought is a key exercise for a developing mind.

Such things are scriptural indeed. Solomon asked God for wisdom, not for knowledge in 1 Kings 3:9. In Acts 17, Luke tells us that there was much more fruit borne of Paul and Silas' teaching in Berea than in Thessalonica, and that the Bereans were more "noble-minded" because not only did they listen to what Paul had to say, but they "examined the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so." (v11b)

One commenter wrote: "...I will confidently stand with such an overwhelming consensus of centuries worth of Christians, because I don’t think that God was waiting for us Americans to correct them." While I don't personally get the "American" reference, I do understand the sentiment. For more than a millennium, scholars have been saying something, so it must be true, right? Not so fast.

For centuries, art scholars and historians have been marvelling over and studying Michelangelo's great works in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. The various frescoes on the ceiling and the "Last Judgement" painted on the altar wall have been captivating us for four hundred years. And for as long, these same learned experts have been commenting on the Master's subdued use of color, on his "dark palette," on his use of deep shadow and contrast. Doctorates have been earned on analytical dissertations of the dark palette.

Then they cleaned it.

A controversial renovation in the 1980's, which removed 400 years of candle soot, demonstrated that not only did the Master not have a dark palette, but in fact, he was a colorist. Wonderful, vibrant shades of rose and apple green, of yellow and ochre sprang to life. I do not dispute that the renovation itself was a poorly-done travesty. Many of the figures now have no eyeballs. And perhaps they removed too much of the shading. But we can learn something from the effort.

Just because wisdom is conventional does not make it correct. After all, Sir Issac Newton and Galileo Galilei both bucked "conventional wisdom" and were proven correct. Knowledge is only as good as the completeness of the information that feeds it. In computer parlance, "Garbage in, garbage out."

We do not operate in a vacuum, not are we intended to by our Creator. We are meant to temper information with careful consideration, and view things through the lens of God's personal revelations to us, as the Bereans did. I absolutely support the quest for knowledge. But one must be able to discern what to apply and when to apply it.


  1. I wonder how this might be applied to the way we view church. Actually I KNOW how I would apply it to church, and I've probably already lost a few eyeballs and shading, but never mind.



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