Symbols

This is a subject that has been on my mind for some time. I decided to use this forum to vet my thoughts. Frankly I am conflicted, occasionally I wonder how far to take this and I am hoping to get your opinions on the subject. Symbols play an important role in our lives. A symbol can be anything from McDonalds golden arches to the American flag. Symbols are an important part of God’s communication to us. The meaning of many of Jesus’ parables are hidden in symbols. God choose to mask his messages from the prophets in Symbols. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that God wants servants that are conscientious of symbols and their meaning. If you combine that with Titus 2:14 and 1Peter 2:9 both which state that Christians are to be separate from the world, I think we have a directive to avoid worldly symbols.

If we are to be separate from the world, should we associate with symbols that are synonymous with the world?

My aim is not to offend anyone but rather to try and get us all to consider the symbols that we put in our home. I think we need to at least be conscientious, and thoughtful. If, after you have considered the true meaning of a symbol, and others perceptions of that symbol and you still feel that it is benign I do not think you err. Truly this is a matter of personal judgment.

Common symbols to take stock of…

The “Jesus” Fish: Although the fish symbol does have pagan origin as symbols for: Aphrodite, Atargatis, Dagon, Ephesus, Isis, Delphine, and Pelagia. They are not as strongly connected as some other symbols. I still wonder, what profit is it to make a profusion of useless symbols that are not found in the bible. Titus 1:16 indicates that we are known by our works, not by the fish sticker on our bumper. With so many stickers on so many bumpers, does this “Christian” symbol really mean anything?

“The Cross”: While I don’t have a strong objection to this one I just wonder, why the cross? I heard a really good sermon this weekend that pointed out the questionable iconography of the cross. Christ was raised and perfected on the third day. It is the third day, the resurrection that marks the pinnacle of his earthly service not the crucifixion. (Luke 13:32) The other question is, with so many people wearing paraphernalia of the crucifixion does it really mark you as a Christian? Do you want people to think of you as a Christian because of what you wear or by what you do?

The Easter Bunny: Some symbols are not so blatant, but take stock of this one. Like the origin of Easter, the origin of the Easter Bunny has roots that go back to pre-Christian, Anglo-Saxon history. The holiday was originally a pagan celebration that worshiped the goddess Eastre. She was the goddess of fertility and springtime and her earthly symbol was the rabbit. Thus the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons worshiped the rabbit believing it to be Eastre’s earthly incarnation.

The Christmas Tree: Research into customs of various cultures shows that greenery was often brought into homes at the time of the winter solstice. It symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans were known to deck their homes with evergreens during the Kalends of January 15. Living trees were also brought into homes during the old Germany feast of Yule, which originally was a two month feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub and brought into the home.

Mistletoe: From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids. On the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle. Two white bulls would be sacrificed amid prayers that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper. Later, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak came to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor. Mistletoe was long regarded as both a sexual symbol and the “soul” of the oak. It was gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices, and the custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions.

I could keep going but I will refrain. I think, as contentious servants we need to be careful of the symbols that we place on ourselves, and in our homes. What do you think?

avatar About Richard

5 thoughts on “Symbols”

  1. @Richard

    Indeed. I think we’re agreeing yet using different terminology. Some symbols or modes of symbology are just down right inappropriate and wrong, and we know it. Some are harmless, and we don’t. What’s the common denominator? Knowing/Understanding not according to us, but to the Lord.

  2. @Lee
    All I have to say is leave it to a graphic designer to have a deep understanding of symbols. In all seriousness, good comment. I do not want to leave the impression that I believe it is a sin to use a symbol that was previously associated with paganism. I personally am not comfortable with it, but I don’t think it is a sin. I do want to urge people to consider symbols of all varieties and scrutinize them. Because symbols are another form of communication we need to be sure we know what we are saying.

  3. @Joshua
    To Lee’s point the significance of a symbol can change over time. I am not saying that symbols have intrinsic unchangeable meanings. Even some of the common symbols today can hold a slightly different connotation for everyone. I am saying that we should, at the very least, be aware of the previous meanings.

  4. Great topic. Here are some truisms about symbols.
    1. Symbols are created out of a need to communicate.
    2. From their genesis, symbols are imbued with meaning that is meant to be carried with them. This is how we communicate by them.
    3. A symbol’s meaning can be changed.
    4. Anything can be a symbol because anything can be given meaning. (days, years, times, foods, people, objects, alphanumeric collections of symbols that make up words that are symbols specific to languages, the empty image icon to the left of this post with my name beneath it telling you that I have not uploaded a headshot to use as an avatar.)
    5. Without meaning, there is no symbol.

    More briefly, we make symbols out of a need to communicate. Those symbols are meant to say something explicit. Over time, the meaning can change. The most crude and current example is the swastika. Historically, it has been a symbol used the world over in representing the four corners of the earth, the four winds, unity, etc. It’s geometric like that. Clean, concise, effective. 60 years ago the meaning changed forever with Germany’s 3rd reich associating it with their particular flavor of barbarism.

    Monday is, to many in the USA, symbolic of the first and most offensive day of the week – even though the first day of the week is Sunday. The fourth of July is symbolic to many as a day to celebrate freedom – utilizing more symbols like waving flags, hot dogs and fireworks, which really have nothing to do with national freedom unless it is one’s inalienable right to wave flags, eat hot dogs, and combust class 3 incendiary devices. Possessions (or the lack thereof) are often symbolic of social status, wealth, and occupation.

    The point is, unless we choose to give all of these things meaning and acknowledge their meaning, they have none. To your question, yes, we do need to take measure of symbols in our lives. God communicates to us through symbols, but they’re just that, communication, not idols. He has given them terminal meaning. This is the trip up – too much stock in the wrong thing. The cross is a great example. As torture/execution devices go, it was one of the worst. Normally we don’t go around wearing bamboo shoots under our fingernails or guillotines around our neck. So, either we wear it to promote ancient Rome’s brand of torture, we wear it as a reminder, we wear it as jewelry, or we wear it completely ignorant of what it was. Would we be willing to wear a real cross the way Jesus wore it? Do we need to?

    Jesus would much rather us worship Him instead of the things He’s touched and the places He’s been.

    Does this mean that holidays are bad or that a Mercedes is a naughty car to own? No. Paul returned to Jerusalem to keep the Passover feast even after the old law had been fulfilled. He told believers in Rome (Romans 14: 1-12) that days are simply days and food is simply food. Luke was a physician. I don’t know if they made the same wages then as they do now, but he may have been able to afford a two-horse-powered chariot. Now, if we judge another based upon their fondness for a day or food, we have erred. And for all those who are the called, we don’t have license to act in ignorance. More than anything, what God is requiring of us are hearts and minds that search His word to find truth in symbols rather than hoping it exists in the cares and products of the world.

    That was a long reply. You may wake up now.

  5. Would you comment to the significance of the historical background of these symbols. For instance, there are certain words that we would consider crude in today’s vernacular, but their historical meaning was much different.

Leave a Reply