There is a legend about a “pink monkey” which describes a behavioral experiment involving a group of monkeys. Supposedly, some behaviorists dyed one monkey pink and returned it to the monkey group. After a brief perusal of the pink monkey, the other monkeys attacked it so viciously that the researchers had to rescue the pink monkey.
This “Pink Monkey” experiment is not true, but rather a social parable about how human beings tend to treat those who are different. More often than not we tend to push off to the side those who are different; those who don’t readily fit into our picture of the norm.
Differences can include physical appearance, intellectual ability, physical ability or disability, personality, emotional states, mental health challenges and the like. The “pink monkey” in the parable was different. He no longer blended in with the tribe. Therefore, he was suspect, he was isolated and attacked.
The sad part of this “pink monkey” story is that I learned about it through a high school girl. She read about the “Pink Monkey” experiment and likened it to in her peer group – feeling the attack of disapproval, rejection and indifference. She believes herself to be a “Pink Monkey” rather that a wondrous creation of God reflecting His image.
This may be an extreme conclusion for her to draw, and may not totally reflect the whole reality of her situation, but it is how this young woman feels. I was deeply moved by this girl’s feelings and had to ask myself, “How am I doing at loving and accepting those who are different from the norm or from my expectations and standards?”
God Created “Pink Monkeys*” (*Please note I am in no way saying that man is a monkey, or that people who are different are monkeys. I am using this term to refer to all those who stand out from the norm like the “pink monkey in the story.)
I want to advocate that we see beyond the “pink” to the beauty of God in each person. “Pink Monkeys” are created in the image of God just as is everyone else.
- “These are the family records of the descendants of Adam. On the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God…” Genesis 5:1
- “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:17
- “But now, O Lord, you are our Father;we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8
God creates us to reflect Him, His intelligence, creativity, capacity for love, mercy and so on. Each person in some way reflects God. People will look very different; have differing degrees of intellectual ability, different personalities, and contrasting emotional states. The type or amount of these qualities does not change the image of God within that person.
We, as God’s creations, are called to respect and respond to His image in others. I believe that is why “to love one another” is the second priority in God’s commands. By loving one another we demonstrate that we are in God’s image, and we bring out His image in others.
God Champions “Pink Monkeys”
In the scriptures we see that God has a heart for all people and He seems to especially seek out those who are marked as different in some way: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. God has no partiality for those whom man deems as beautiful, whole, charismatic, successful, and so on. Scripture testifies to this.
- “… who (God) shows no partiality to princes,nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?” Job 34:19
- “For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality …” Deuteronomy 10:17
- “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” James 2:1
Let’s look more closely at God’s love for those that man often finds wanting.
There was a man in the synagogue who had a withered hand. It was physically distracting to others and useless to him. Performing daily tasks and earning a living with the use of only one hand was indeed challenging, especially in the age and society in which he lived.
Jesus had a heart to help this man by healing him. But the leaders in the synagogue did not care about this man’s life or his feelings. In fact, it seems they used him to trap Jesus by accusing Him of doing work (healing) on the Sabbath.
Jesus was grieved in his heart at their “coldness of heart,” their lack of regard and care that these men had for the condition of the man with the withered hand. Yet, Jesus had compassion on him and healed the man, risking the wrath of the religious leaders. (Read:Mark. 3:1-6)
As I reflect on Jesus’ character in this situation, I ask myself: “What is my heart towards people whose appearance is unusual maybe from burns, an accident, a birth defect, an amputation, skin lesions from a disease, or other physical issues? Am I willing to reach out and touch them, welcome them into my group, befriend them? Serve them? Look past their appearance, disability or behavior and see the person within? Am I willing to put myself in their shoes? Do I give them the value God does, or do I consider them somehow less important, or less valuable?”
The Cast Out
On a busy pathway a man with a dreaded disease approached Jesus. This man had leprosy a disease that in those days marred physical appearance, brought isolation to its victim and fear to others around him/her. The leper was literally “cast out,” forced to keep a designated distance from others, and to label and identify him/herself as unclean, unacceptable.
Jesus’ response was amazing. He did not turn away from this man, reject him or follow the accepted protocol. Jesus reached out in compassion and touched this man, who had probably not had an affirming touch in a long time.
- “Then a man with a serious skin disease came to Him … Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched him. “I am willing,”he told him. “Be made clean.” Immediately the disease left him, and he was healed.” Mark 1:40-41
As I read this account in the life of Jesus I ask myself who do I hold at a distance and why?
The Out of Control
There are many reasons as to why a person’s emotions, thought processes and or behaviors may be out of control. Jesus reached out to just such a man. In fact this man was so out of control that people had chained him in a graveyard. (Wow, how is that for acceptance and affirmation from your peers)?
This man had self destructive tendencies; he was obviously in turmoil and pain. Everyone feared him and ran away from him, but Jesus reached out to him, drew him in, helped him and had a vision for this man that went beyond the grave yard.
- “As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, He was met by a man with an unclean spirit, who was coming from the tombs. This man had been living in the tombs and could no longer be restrained, even with chains. Though he was often bound with chains and shackles, he had broken the chains and shattered the shackles. Now there was no one with the strength to subdue him. Night and day in the tombs and in the mountains he kept crying out and cutting himself with stones.” Read: Mark 5:1-20
Jesus did not bind this man, which surely He could have done. Jesus did not ignore this man. Jesus looked at this man, took time to hear his story and then helped him. In the end, we see Jesus and the man sitting together talking and then Jesus gives the man a new purpose.
- “Jesus said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.” Mk. 5:19-20
You, Me and “Pink Monkeys”
What does this say to you and me? If you profess faith in Jesus and claim to follow Him, then it says a lot.
We are recipients of the grace and abundant love of God, and are called to love as Jesus loved. Some questions I am asking myself about my love for others:
- Do I love others beyond those who include me in a familiar circle?
- Do I pull in those who for whatever reason are on the fringes?
- Do I consider and value those who have a different personality type than me?
- Do I fellowship those who have a physical or a mental challenge?
- Am I emulating God’s love?
- Am I teaching my children and others how to see and love other people?
Jesus stopped. Jesus looked deeply. Jesus listened. Jesus acted in compassion and love!
Let us follow His example.