Why the Color of the Dress Matters



Recently, the entire internet was blindsided by a worldwide debate over whether a dress was white and gold or black and blue. This question was posted and spread all over social media and it got an unusual amount of attention in a relatively short time period. The main reason why the attention was so intense was because of the surprising frustration and emotion that seemed to crop up over people's drastically different perceptions of the dress.

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There are many lessons that could be learned from this social experiment. One possible lesson could be of a social nature in discovering how people interact when they disagree. Another possible lesson could be of a social media nature in discovering how widespread social media has crept into our lives where the entire world can have an almost instantaneous experience concerning something of a relatively unimportant nature. There is even an emotional lesson that can be learned when we consider just how emotional some became in arguing over an issue that had no real significance in their lives. To illustrate, some resulted to name calling friends for their "obviously faulty eyes and a brain that failed to learn their colors in Kindergarden like the rest of us" (A direct quote from one thread on Facebook that I saw). But it seems that the most important lesson that could be learned from this experiment is the implications upon epistemology (how we know what we know) and how our contemporary existential hermeneutic is bankrupt.

We live in a culture where the only unforgivable sin is to tell someone that they are wrong. Our society trumpets that all thoughts and opinions are equal and should be valued. But the problem remains, What if you are wrong? This ethic of subjective truth falls apart when pushed to its logical conclusions every time. And yet our society clings to it.

When someone has the audacity to object to the principle that truth is subjective, the culture fires back with fierceness that what's "true to you" may be different than what is "true to me" and we "all have our own truth". I think this dress fiasco illustrates just how important this conversation is. The dress can not be white and gold "to you" and blue and black "to me" without one of us being objectively wrong. The real dress exists somewhere and that dress cannot be both black and blue and white and gold at the same time. As illustrated in this cultural dress controversy, the reader response hermeneutic method of interpretation is bankrupt of true meaning because true meaning lies with the origin not the recipient. To attempt to maintain community, allowing everyone's truth to be validated by their faulty perception only encourages an underlying frustration and disunity.

After just a few hours of internet chaos and what seemed to be a verbal anarchy on my social media timelines, reports began to surface from the author of the picture who revealed that the true color of the dress was in fact black and blue (to the increased frustration of many). This blog is not meant to explain why the dress appeared differently to different people but is meant to point out that well meaning people saw one dress drastically different than others.

When discussing truth, the question is not "what color is the dress to you?" Just because the dress is white and gold "to you" doesn't make it white and gold. As this dress experiment has made clear, perception can be very very wrong. The correct question is simply "what color is the dress?" There is an objectively true answer to that question and the answer is found through external revelation - whether you agree with it or not. This is why interpretation is of vital importance.
"Interpretation" is not a synonym for "opinion". "Interpretation" is a science. And like any science it is a method by which we propose theories and hypotheses and then perform tests that determine whether our initial thoughts are valid or substantiated. Initial hypotheses on what is true may be right or wrong and hermeneutics is the science by which we come to rightly interpret the words and their meanings. At the end of the day, an interpretation is right or wrong based upon what the author intended by his communication. What the author designed, produced, and wrote matters. What the author intended matters. What the author declared is reality. If we opine differently than the definer of truth we are the ones that are wrong.

Take the secular song, "Closing Time" by the band Semisonic. This song was almost universally "interpreted" by fans to be a song about leaving a bar at the end of the night. But the song is actually about the lead singer welcoming his child into the world when he was born. The reason I can say that all the fans of the song are wrong, is because the lead singer of the band, who wrote the song, has said the song is about his child being born. To think otherwise is to be WRONG. Once you understand the author's meaning, you can only then begin to understand the song.

Now we know. The dress is black and blue. Some people still have trouble believing it, but their unbelief does not invalidate the truthfulness of those claims. At the end of the day, the author of the photo is the one who truly knows and so his opinion on the color of the dress is the only opinion that matters. The only question that now remains is, do we find the author of the photo credible?

This matters because while a dress is irrelevant, the truth of God is relevant to all of us. What you and I theorize about God, the creation of the universe, and the nature of how people can be saved does not matter. What matters is what God has declared about it. We can be well meaning, but like the way we looked at a dress, we can view it wrongly if we do not hold our opinions consistent with God's. Some people say there is no God. Some people say God will forgive everyone. Some people say you have to kill infidels in jihad to go to heaven. Some people say you can do nothing to earn salvation and the only solution to sin is for God in the person of Jesus Christ to live the life we failed to live and die the death we deserved to die that by his resurrection those who repent and believe in him will be forgiven and given eternal life. Who is right?

The question that should matter to us is what does the author of creation and the judge of the universe say? God's opinion, as the author of everything, is the only opinion that really matters. You may disagree with him as he has revealed objective truth in the Bible, but you are unwise to trust your perception over his. Truth is not subject to your opinion nor is it invalidated by your experience. Truth is truth because it is true. And the only one who has the right perspective is God. Thank God he has revealed to us his perspective on the matter through the Bible which stands as a totally reliable revelation of God's perspective.

So, you are free to spend your life arguing about what you and others believe in your heart to be true. Are you genuine in your beliefs? Sure. But your genuineness does not define or alter truth. I don't care what color you think the dress is. You didn't make it. The lighting is tricky. Your perspective is not reliable. Or as Scripture puts it your "heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9) So don't trust your eyes, your brain, or even your heart. Trust Christ. He is TRUTH and his word is TRUTH. Let's not forget after all, some of us were really sure about the color of the dress only to find out later that we were wrong. Don't let that happen with something that really matters.