Symbolism All Around Us

I’ve been listening to this teacher James Jordan’s series called How to Read the Bible (Again) for the First Time. Actually, I heard it the firs time a couple of months ago, but once wasn’t nearly enough to absorb all of his ideas, let alone to see if I agree with them. It’s roughly six hours long. The good thing about my job is that from time to time I have work that doesn’t inhibit me from taking a listen to teaching during the work day, and since everyone that works in my department was gone on to a work related conference last week, but for myself, I took the opportunity to listen to the audio series again. In fact, it was so good, I proceeded to listen to all six parts Monday through Friday, and each time continued to pick different stuff up from Jordan’s messages.

The messages are very insightful. The basically explains how to find answers to more of the perplexing twists and mysteries in scripture that doesn’t appear to make sense by reading alone. Along the way, he explains a great deal of perspective for what he already knows about this and that. He covered lots of issues throughout the book of Genesis, covered the Pentateuch, books of judges, kings, then partially the gospels, etc. Along the way, he made the point that the Bible is not solely a message about sin and redemption—like so many think—but the story about maturation; how we go from being babies, and thinking like babies, to growing physically up to adult age, and needing to become more mature to “grow up” in wisdom and patience to match our physical age. I may not explain as well has he did with that sentence, but that was his main point.

The second thing he strongly emphasized was the symbolism and typology all throughout the Word of God. He explains that all the stories of the Old Testament reflect the story of Christ in the gospels. Every man’s life, or part of their life (just about) is a picture of something relating to the life, death, and resurrection. But this symbolism is not limited to pictures of Christ in the Old Testament. He pointed out dozens of forms of symbolism I’d never heard of.

What it all boils down to is God made this physical world to reflect something about His nature. God makes history itself—various events in the lives of all mankind—to reflect something about His nature and truth. The sciences and mathematics would reflect aspects of His nature as well. The whole picture of human existence and everything in it somehow comes back to being a symbol for some characteristic of God and the way he operates. Of course, none of this includes the nature of sin, since sin itself is the absence of ideas, events, actions and thoughts like God’s.

So this symbolism carries over to the arts. If it true that all aspects of His creation and all that happens in it are reflections—symbols—of truth and His persona, then all that occurs within the arts, unless it in it’s very nature is sinful, would otherwise reflect the nature of God, and be symbolic of truth about God.

An example from nature: trees demonstrate the nature God wants the Christian life to be like. Trees are meant to pop up just about everywhere, starting small and insignificant to the world around them, to grow up to the point you can’t help but notice them. With age and maturity, as the trees grow, they bear fruit sacrificially for the world around them. They add beauty—each one, ultimately unique—to the world around them. They demonstrate hospitality offering shelter to man and beast alike. They stand strong and firmly in place as their roots grow deep, and sometimes deeper than they get tall. Even the way they breath gives back to the world around them. 

All of these characteristics would be symbolic of the Christian life. I shouldn’t have to tell you how.

Here’s the thing. The symbolism is nice, but how far do you carry it, and on what evidence or proof do you say the tree is meant to symbolize something else? What if someone else sees different symbolism than I do? What if a tree withers and dies? What is that supposed to mean? What about the seasonal changes when the tree looses its beauty with the leaves falling off? Again, besides these specific examples I just named, how do we know I got the symbolism right in the first place? The Bible doesn’t tell me these things.

But the tree was just one example. What about the rest of God created and man-made things? What do they symbolize, and how do we know the symbol is true?

These are the things I’m pondering. With time, I’ll delve into this more.