Sunday, February 7, 2010

Where do we metaphorically draw the symbolic line?

A long time ago, it was a a practice of a certain group of people to, in times of special worship, bow down and pray before a wooden, gold-leafed box. This group of people considered the box, which had been expensively and lavishly decorated, so holy that it was unlawful to touch it. They claimed that the voice of their god came from the box, and that at times he would meet with them on the box. They carried it on poles, because it was said that if you touched it, you would die because of the great power and holiness with which this box had been imbued. They even carried it into battle in the belief that it would affect the outcome in their favor. Sound crazy yet? Does it seem like the the superstitious beliefs of some primitive tribe of aborigines? I tell you this, that if it is crazy, it's crazy in the same crazy-awesome way that the Incarnation is crazy, or the creation of the world. Because this group of people, as you the reader has probably already guessed, is none other than the nation of Israel, the Chosen People of God.

In the Old Testament, God worked and gave visible signs of his presence in physical objects. The Ark of the Covenant is a good example, as is the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple in Jerusalem. In each instance, God's presence is made tangible in a special, remarkable way. God demonstrates his presence in the Ark of the Covenant by literally striking dead any who touched it. The Ark was holy, and unholy people cannot touch holy things without death. When the tabernacle was completed, the glory of the Lord literally filled the tabernacle, and even Moses was unable to enter the tent because of the glory of God filling it. Likewise, when the great Temple at Jerusalem was finished and the Ark was brought in, a cloud filled the Temple, and "the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD" (1 Kings 8:11). These were not merely symbols of the presence of God. God was really, in a powerful, actual way, present in these physical objects. The glory of God literally filled the temple in a way not true of anywhere else.

Given this, why do Christians today have this fixation on symbols? Rather, why does a thing's status as a symbol disqualify it from having any actual power and real significance? Why is the bread and wine (well, crackers and grape juice at most churches) of communion merely a symbol of us partaking of Christ's body and blood? (I'm not going to get into baptism here, as that would require a far larger note and much more research and thought on my part). The tabernacle was a symbol of things to come. But it was also, at the same time, the very real dwelling place of the Most High on earth.

Now, communion is clearly a symbol of many things. I am not arguing against that. What I am arguing against is this idea that because it is symbolic, it is only symbolic. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, says that whoever eats and drinks unworthily "eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Cor. 11:29). Can something that is purely symbolic, with no actual power, really bring judgment upon a person? Paul goes on to say that "that is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died." People died because they had an improper attitude towards communion. It reminds me of 2 Samuel 6, where Uzzah touches the Ark to steady it and is struck dead instantly.

I am not saying that the crackers we use for communion, as crackers, have any inherent power. What I am saying is that, when we take them for communion, they become, through the supernatural workings of God, something more than just crackers, just like the Ark was more than just a wooden box. I believe that when I take communion with a right heart, God uses the physical objects of communion to literally and powerfully impact and affect me on a spiritual level, not just as a reminder or a symbol.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree with me if you want. I have not studied near enough to be completely confident in my position. I welcome discussion on the matter, and in the quite likely event that you see me on a regular basis, I would love to discuss this further.

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