All these years later it’s hard to imagine the surprise and delight the first viewers of The Wizard of Oz felt when the movie screen flashed from black & white to amazing Technicolor. That which we take for granted, the first audiences took for pure pleasure.
Still photography and television eventually followed suit, introducing color into a world of, well, color.
Years later, movie directors now go that opposite direction. They shoot films in black & white for the same dramatic effect that The Wizard of Oz accomplished years earlier. It would seem that we’ve come full circle.
In the 90s, Steven Spielberg added a new twist to the color vs. black & white debate. In Schindler’s List, shot hauntingly in black & white, the director introduced a fleck of color, a brilliant red coat in a sea of gray despair. Later, we find that coat and its owner discarded like so much refuse on a pile of dead bodies.
The effect Spielberg created was both dazzling and disheartening. He brought to one scene two seemingly dissimilar cinemagraphic techniques and created a third. A large part of the strength of that scene is bound up in the fact that he had done so. Joy and sorrow, black & white and color, in the same instant. It unsettled our nerves and our senses. Which is it? What should I feel?
Christians often feel the same way when we study Scripture. Our sensibilities are confronted with startling contrasts. The tender love of Christ and the harsh hatred of the crowds. The darkness of the cross and the light of salvation. The sorrow of the contrite apostle Peter and the joy of Resurrection Day. Should we shout for joy or weep in sorrow? Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
This sense of sensory overload is all the more powerful when we begin to think deeply on the teaching of Scripture. We live in a world that loves the black and the white. We like clear distinctions. We relish clarity. We want this or that. We long for either/or. Yet, the Bible doesn’t always afford us that luxury.
There’s the rub. The Bible often demands that we reject our either/or mentality and embrace the both/and. We struggle to do so. We cry foul at the very notion. Some point to alleged contradictions and cancel the entire project. The idea that one can blend black and white and color on one palette is beyond our wildest imaginations. Yet, those very tensions are often the most beautiful teaching of Scripture.
Consider what we lose, if we lose the ability to accept the both/and:
God is both loving and just. He operates out of perfect love. Yet, He must deal with sin harshly. Take away either attribute and He is not the God of the Bible.
Christ is both God and man. He is fully divine and completely human. He had to be both to accomplish salvation.
Salvation involves both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. God elects and man believes.
Our eternal hope is both already secure and not yet completed. We have been saved by the work of Christ on the cross and we are being saved from our sins even today.
Christ’s return is both certain and uncertain. We know He is coming back. We’re just not sure when.
The Bible is full of such both/and ideas. He has kept some things hidden from ages past that were revealed in the time of Christ. Others remain obscured by our sin or our limited capacities to understand the divine. We must accept the both/ands as mysteries hidden in the perfect will and knowledge of God. We must resist the urge to demand that God clarify all things before we believe. Instead, we must embrace the unknown while obeying the revealed (Deuteronomy 29:29).
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About Peter Beck
Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
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