Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Importance of Symbols Part 2

    In a previous post I mentioned how glad I am that we have widespread literacy and scholarly bible study to keep us connected to the intellectual truths of Christianity. I rejoice in how everyone can have direct access to theology. In how our access to various media can allow everyone’s ideas to be evaluated and critiqued. But I think this luxury has pulled us too much in that direction. Because in the bible I also see God sometimes using elements like
narrative and symbolism to introduce people to his message. I think in some cases instead of diluting the message the additional narrative or symbolic elements can make the message more memorable and relatable.
I was reading The Lord's Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes and I enjoyed it alot. But I did notice not exactly a defect but what I felt was an imbalance. This book is from the Baptist perspective, and while a lot of time was spend on the augments for the primary significance of communion being symbolic (against transubstantiation and related) comparatively little time was spent on the symbolism itself. Now this is a scholarly work so it’s appropriate to focus on concepts and the reality of ideas. However the Lord’s Supper is a very important practice. And I think the importance is in the symbolism. That importance should be overriding enough to make some room for exploring and reveling in the symbolism. I think sometimes our focus is so intellectual that, having affirmed the intellectual truth that the meaning is symbolic, we then don’t know what to do with that symbol.
I liked Math in school and there was a certain joke I really like:  There was a chemist a  physicist and a mathematician and an experimenter want to know which is which. He sets up a lab with some papers on fire in a trash can on the lab bench. He sends the men in one by one. This is the mathematician.
photo by Rizzo183
The first two men just grab a beaker of water and dump it in the trash can, putting the fire out. but when the last man comes in he grabs a piece of chalk, quickly calculates the energy released by the oxidation of the hydrocarbons in the paper, the heat conductivity of the metal trash can, and the latent heat of vaporization of water, gets a calibrated pipet and squirts in the exact amount of water needed to extinguish the fire but leave the trash can perfectly dry afterwards. This is the chemist. But the experimenter still needs to distinguish between the physicist and the mathematician. So he sets up the lab again, but this time puts the trash can with the burning paper on the floor. The first man still gabs a beaker of water and dumps it into the trash can. But the next man takes some asbestos gloves and picks the trash can up and puts it on the lab bench. He then leaves, having reduced the problem to one previously solves.
In abstract pursuits you want to boil information into a known fact or an applicable result. But there is more in a symbol or a parable than just a  fact or an application. It can also convey an intuition a feeling or an attitude. I think our modern culture sometimes doesn’t really absorb and value, and even critique those things as it should.