Symbol of Hope

Symbols have power.  The ancient Romans were onto this, and they knew how to wield it.  They dominated conquered people and kept them subjugated through that timeless implement of control—fear.  The Romans planted symbols everywhere to keep the fear fresh.  One of the most enduring and fearful symbols was that symbol of execution by crucifixion, the cross.  The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, but they did tune it for maximum cruelty, and they did use it liberally, at least in Judea.  The cross was a potent symbol of gruesome torture, fear and oppression for a thousand years until Constantine abolished crucifixion to honor Christ.

The symbol of the cross is no less potent now than it was thousands of years ago.  But a remarkable thing happened.  It now stands for love, hope and salvation.  Even the atrocities of the Crusades and Klu Klux Klan, committed bearing the sign of the cross, didn’t permanently throw the symbol’s meaning back to its ancient horror.  That the meaning of this symbol could be so radically transformed and still be powerfully evocative today is no less miraculous than bodily resurrection itself.

If you seek radical transformation for yourself, if there is a part of you that fills you with horror or angst, or if you desperately seek to make a break from your past, the symbol of the cross might offer you hope and encouragement.  It has a thousand year history of darkness, and yet it was radically remade into a symbol of light and love.  That remade meaning has endured for thousands of years more.  If that hateful image could be redeemed from its past and fundamentally transformed, then surely by God’s power, we can be, too.

My Easter prayer for you is that the darkness in your past will be redeemed.  The history of the cross’ symbolism wasn’t rewritten, and your history won’t be rewritten either.  Whatever malice or spite is lying in your past will remain there.  However, Jesus assures us in scripture that our returning is made more joyful to God because of our past sins, not despite them.

I used to wonder why Christians perceive more joy over one sinner returning than many staying on righteous paths.  Staying on the straight and narrow is no mean feat, after all.  I suspect the reason has to do with heartbreak.  To use a sailing analogy, imagine a sailing ship returning with all her crew from a routine voyage.  Certainly loved ones would happily welcome the expected return of any voyage.  Imagine the heartbreak and grief instead if the ship failed to return and all were feared lost at sea.  And then, imagine the ship limping into harbor with all souls accounted for.  The rejoicing would be greater because the returning conquers the heartbreak.

There is heartbreak and grief when we veer off course.  We inflict it on ourselves, on others and on God.  Upon returning, the heartbreak is not just repaired as if we had never veered off but surmounted, vanquished, and transcended.  It is like the resurrection of Jesus conquering his death or a symbol’s meaning transforming from cruelty to salvation.  So search yourself for the darkness within you, acknowledge the heartbreak there, and look to the cross with hope for redemption.

Join the conversation.  What is your deepest and most fervent hope?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Salvation: 3 Perspectives from 3 Traditions

 

Someone in a desperate battle to escape his brokenness might reasonably look to scripture to visualize healing with God’s help.  The concept of salvation and the scriptural basis for it, however, evoke markedly different reference points across different traditions.  

Jews recall God’s acts to save his chosen people—parting the Red Sea, sparing Nineveh, and preserving Noah’s passengers.  There is a rich diversity of views about redemption within the Jewish tradition.  Orthodox Jews believe in the promise that a human messiah will unite the people of Israel and rule in peace.  The most Orthodox Jews adhere to the most literal interpretation, wherein the messianic era will lead to supernatural events culminating in bodily resurrections of the dead (leading traditional Jews to shun cremation, embalming and organ donation).  At the other end of the spectrum, Reform Jews believe it is each individual Jew’s responsibility to live as if the coming of the messianic age rests on her own shoulders, giving rise to the social justice imperative.  People are saved when they turn to God and do as he commands in faith.  Reform Jews have altered traditional prayers to refer to “redemption” rather than “redeemer.” 

Christians look at salvation on the individual level and put Jesus front and center.  Despite Christians’ universal focus on Jesus Christ as savior, Christians diverge on the interpretation of salvation.  Some view it as eternal life after death—which can be understood as bodily life or life of the soul—paid for with Jesus’ blood.  Others view salvation as pertaining to life here and now, before death.  For those, salvation is about relationship, specifically the new way to relate to God (new covenant) and to each other (Kingdom of God on earth) that Jesus taught through his words and living example. Still others view salvation as the daily life we receive from God. 

Both Testaments teem with references to salvation, giving seekers encouragement and hope.  Here are a couple from both Old and New Testaments:

5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.  15 My eyes are ever towards the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. (Psalm 25:5,15) 

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

Much of the bible was written in times when external enemies posed very present threats, so salvation carries an unmistakable socio-political connotation.  In parallel, the external enemy stands as a metaphor for the enemy within.  For those who are broken, the bible’s words of salvation speak just as powerfully about deliverance from our very selves—from elements of our personalities that lead us to seek self-satisfaction over God’s will, dragging us down and away from him and the life we desire. 

Leave it to the Twelve Step tradition to sum it up best: 

I tried my way.  My way didn’t work. 
I tried God’s way.  His way works. 

“I tried God’s way” is surrender.  “His way works” is salvation.

 Join the conversation.  What saved you form bondage to self?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.