Use of Symbols

Symbols are a powerful means to inspire and transmit a large amount of information quickly. One need only think of the swastika to become aware of the power of symbols.

The most universal symbol of the Christian faith is the cross. Interestingly, the earliest Christians avoided the use of this image. For them it was a reminder, a too-vivid reminder, of the horrible suffering and death Jesus suffered, the ignominy he endured that ended his ministry. It was church theologians who transformed the meaning of his death on the cross into a glorious sacrifice on behalf of humankind, an atonement between sinful humanity and an exacting God.

Believers today have the benefit of many years of intensive biblical scholarship as we work out the meaning of our faith and traditions in today’s world. Using symbols creatively can be an aid in opening ourselves to new ideas as we look at our heritage with fresh eyes. Symbols and visual depictions are especially important in reaching the non-literate (children, immigrants in our communities, and others unable to read). They can be used to encourage reflection and may often evoke a multiplicity of images and ideas.

An example of a multi-faceted image is the rainbow. It is a traditional Christian symbol of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (its seven colors representing the seven gifts). It is moreover an ancient Judeo-Christian symbol of the covenant between God and humanity as expressed in the story of Noah in Genesis, chapter nine. God is said to have set the bow (a weapon of aggression) in the sky after sending the great flood as a reminder that God will never again destroy all life by a flood. We think of hope and fresh beginnings after a storm when we see a rainbow. Additionally, the rainbow is a present day symbol of tolerance and inclusion between all races and manner of people.

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