Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Symbols: Pressing the Button - Black

Symbols are everywhere – on our streets, roads, and highways; in hospitals, institutions, and thankfully, on the doors of public washrooms. They adorn food packaging, medications, electrical appliances, automobile controls, and are found in places of business and worship. We encounter scores of symbols every day and learn to interpret them – well, some of them.

A symbol, when properly understood and interpreted, holds meaning, whether, for example, it’s the skull and crossbones on a package containing a poisonous substance, or a checkerboard sign at a T-junction on the road, or a silhouette of a slope with tumbling boulders. Those are designed to forewarn us of hazards, for our safety. The symbol of justice in the blindfolded woman bearing a pair of scales reminds us that justice is supposed to weigh only evidence presented, and not be swayed to favour or disfavour either the plaintiff or accused, based on their appearance.
Symbols have no power of their own, other than the reality they represent, or when, in the case of warnings, they are heeded, and appropriate action is taken. Consider symbols of the faith: The Cross is arguably the supreme symbol of help and hope in the world. The wearing of a cross, crucifix, St. Christopher medallion, or any number of items bearing religious symbols, are powerless to save a soul from sin, or to keep one spiritually safe.

Granted, individuals have been physically spared death or injury when a projectile or weapon struck a metal emblem on their person, instead of penetrating their bodies. However, a crucifix serves to remind us of the price paid for the forgiveness of our sins and redemption. A plain, empty cross signifies that the cross on which Jesus died and the tomb in which He was buried are empty, because He rose from the dead, and therefore reminds us of His victory over death, hell, and the grave.

Sometimes I wear a lapel button in the form of an anchor. It reminds me of the verse that says Jesus Christ is the anchor of our souls, both sure and steadfast (Hebrews 6:19-20). The small bar near the top forms a cross with the word Sure, while the anchor’s tines bear the word Steadfast. I’ve had that button since 1957, when I became a member of The Boy’s Brigade, a Christian organization in Scotland. That anchor button has no power, but the reality it represents does, for it speaks of the Lord Jesus who entered heaven and whose sacrifice on the cross twenty centuries ago obtained for us forgiveness, cleansing, a restored relationship with God, and a living hope in this life and beyond.
Imagine: You stand before a closed electrically-operated door. You tug and pull at the handle to no avail. Then you notice the ‘Open’ symbol on a large button on the lintel. You press it, and the door swings open to admit you. The symbol had no power to open the door, but the mechanism that was activated by the pressing of the button did. The symbol’s role was to draw your attention to where you must apply pressure in order to activate the mechanism.

Dear reader, religious symbols do not save or bring us into right relation with God, but can be useful in drawing our attention to the spiritual and eternal realities they represent. Jesus is the doorway to life. Faith moves us to press the button.

© Peter A. Black 2009. This article adapted from Peter’s column P-Pep! in Watford Guide-Advocate, a Southwestern Ontario newspaper.
His first book, "Parables from the Pond" ("written for children, read and enjoyed by all ages") is published by Word Alive Press. He can be contacted at and

1 comment:

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Hi Peter,
Thanks for sharing this parable with us. These are good thoughts and a great encouragement.

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