In Part 1 we looked at the spiritual significance of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. If you linked over to the lecture you know that Harry Potter is unprecedented in the thickness of its symbols. If you’re skeptical about the spiritual impact of symbolism in a written work, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s dive in.
How are Symbols Spiritual?
Consider this illustration. All the letters that make up the words I am typing are nothing more than symbols. The words themselves are symbols, but their meaning is spiritual. Their meaning can excite emotions – making you resonate with passion or offence, comfort, joy, fear or aggression. The words are doing this as you interpret their meaning – the meaning of the symbols. You do this subconsciously, but your heart is impacted.
On a larger scale, when a story is imbedded with cooperating symbols, you likewise receive the intended message. Your emotions and thought processes are impacted by the story as a whole. In essence, you respond. You may not be conscious of the degree to which you digest the message, but the message gets in and starts floating around – including the values displayed and the spiritual example embodied in that story. This is simply the power of story telling. It’s why marketing is so successful. More importantly, it’s why God Himself uses stories to instruct us in Scripture. Jesus taught in parables. The way we receive and understand truth is simply part of our humanity.
Symbolism & Rowling
J.K. Rowling has accomplished an immense spiritual victory simply through having written detailed symbolism into her books, and of those works being read so broadly. Every person who reads Harry Potter is vicariously participating in the processes of Alchemy and is giving their ear to its teachings.
Does this sound a bit over-the-top?
Christianity actually teaches this principle where we say that our Scriptures wash a person (Eph. 5:26) and that faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17). Thus, in HP we have an example of an influential message working in opposition to the Bible.
Here is an excerpt from my book in progress, The Feast of Ichor (working title):
“Her grandmother had spent her life accumulating those books. She was the one to teach Castalia that oracle writings held hidden power – having the ability to alter a person’s very nature. Most held curses that seeping into the mind transmuted the thoughts. However, Cliewyn had been certain that if such evil works existed, then profitable, even healing ones did as well. She had combed remote isles for even fragments of such lost lore and eventually amassed a collection beyond price.”
Symbolism in Christianity
Christians have long observed the presence of symbols in Scripture. We popularly recognise “types of Christ.” These were individuals in Scripture who foreshadowed something about the character of Jesus, such as King David who was also a shepherd.
We believe in the “Living Word,” which is a reference to Jesus. We believe that when God spoke at creation, Jesus – the eternal Word (John 1:1) was with Him and through Him all things were created (Col 1:16). Furthermore, the book of Revelation is also acknowledged to be nearly entirely made up of symbols.
A simple example comes from the book of Hebrews where we see precedent that God has given revelation through objects that are meant to point us to something greater:
For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, saying, this is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry…
It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. -Hebrews 9:19-21, 23&24
This passage tells us that the tabernacle on earth was a symbol of the Heavenly one. Here’s my question: As a result of this information, have we sought to discover any further meaning contained within the symbolism of the Tabernacle? Or, have we taken what we are clearly told is a symbol, at face value, and not sought to interpret it?
Symbolism & Wild Biblical Interpretation
Through the above examples I hope to illustrate that I am not referring to arbitrary metaphors that are open to anyone’s interpretation. I am also not proposing that we look under every rock of Scripture for a metaphor. There is a relationship between metaphor and symbolism, but they are not one and the same – something we’ll discuss further. For now, it’s important to draw a line between the symbolism God has purposed for us to grasp, the big picture stuff, and the unlicensed abuse of Scripture, seeking to make the Bible say whatever a person imagines it to say.
Symbolism is in fact deeply rooted in Scripture, and Biblical symbols contain rich revelation. These are not sensational things, but knowledge that edifies. Symbolic truths can also be verified from Genesis to Revelation, the same way any precept of Scripture can. They are concepts that God has placed in the Scriptures for us to discover as we grow in our knowledge of Him (Prov. 25:2). These are not things that puff up our minds, but are true revelation bearing the fruit of awe-inspired worship.
Symbolism & Real Life
If you’ve never considered the perfection of the Bible from this angle, I encourage you to stick around for the rest of this series. We’re going to cover many more angles before we round out an understanding of symbolism.
On a practical note, if you find that people are not necessarily interested in conversations about Christian faith, symbolism is a bridge to open conversation. Most people are interested in meaningful conversation, but they need to hear from a Christianity that is deeply relatable. You might be surprised how far an understanding of basic symbolism can connect you to people who currently reject the Modernistic form of Christianity.
If you’re ready to open that pandora’s box, come back for Part 3