Have you noticed how our language seems to be devolving into a pictographic system? Our native language is being reduced to a rapidly expanding collection of symbols that are morphing into a unique language all its own. Signs at busy downtown intersections used to have words on them. Now they have little humanoid images of a guy walking when it’s safe to cross the street, and when it’s not, the little guy gets a big red circle around him with a crossbar through it–no reading skills needed.
Symbols offer an efficient way to communicate and their use has expanded to embrace much more than traffic safety. The exploding practice of symbolic communication has been fueled by such things as the proliferation of political correctness and identity politics. Added to that, there’s a verbal communication barrier that comes with the invasion of immigrants flooding into our country who don’t speak English. Finally, there’s an incredible array of digital graphics and pictographic possibilities constantly available to nearly everyone.
New Emojis Coming ~
Small wonder, then, that the tiny “emoji” has emerged from the cyber netherworld and become one of the most popular forms of symbolic communication of our day 😱 !! The ubiquitous little characters easily and conveniently condense an incredible array of ideas, comments, and personal statements into tiny little images. In addition to the hundreds that already exist, Apple will apparently be unleashing some 230 new ones for the upcoming “World Emoji Day.” Frantic efforts are underway by emoji creators to cater to every taste, preference, worldview, religion, ideology, hobby, pet, or relational status imaginable. No matter how far out on the behavioral fringe a person’s approach to personal identity might be, there’s an emoji just for them. For instance, there will be over 75 new ones offering varying shades of skin color and an extensive assortment gender possibilities, all configured in ways to represent almost every conceivable relational possibility or preference. As if that were not enough, there’s now even an “Emoji Bible.”
Lest we think that symbolic communication is a modern contrivance, even a cursory look at the Bible would disarm that argument. God was ahead of us in that process by thousands of years. Though He may not have directed Moses to chisel out a couple of simple markings on his stone tablet and call it a “Smiley Face” ( 😊 ), God was all about efficiently presenting ideas and concepts in the form of symbols and types. The entire Mosaic system of worship was an exercise in symbolism and typology designed to define and illustrate the redemption that His Son would eventually accomplish in every detail.
Would Jesus Use Emojis? ~
It might be fun to contemplate whether Jesus would have used emojis, but whether He employed symbolism is beyond debate. His parables are filled with symbols that illuminate eternal truth in ways that continue to change lives every day. The symbols and types that God chose to employ are as immutable and authoritative as the words He delivered to the human writers of Scripture, and they share an interactive relationship. Having a grasp of the symbols that God chose to use is often vital to understanding what the Word of God is really saying.
Even the Close Ones Missed It ~
For example, sometimes those who heard the words directly from Jesus’ mouth failed to understand the message because they didn’t grasp the symbol. An episode involving a simple warning Jesus issued is illustrative of that, especially in light of the context. Jesus had recently taken seven loaves and a few small fish and fed four thousand men, plus uncounted women and children (Matthew 15:32-39). On the heels of that, there is this admonition:
Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.” Matthew 16:6 (NKJV)
The disciples heard the word “leaven” and immediately thought He was talking about bread. Having just left the miraculous feeding of thousands, they realized they had collected seven baskets full of leftovers but had brought none of it with them, and they thought He was criticizing them for the oversight. While they were discussing the problem (maybe debating who to blame for the embarrassing faux pas), Jesus interrupted.
Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up? How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?–but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” …Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:9-12 (NKJV)
This incident reveals a couple of things about symbolic communication. Obviously, symbols can be a wonderfully efficient communication device, but unless the symbol is understood, it can be a source of confusion and misdirection. Using leaven as a symbol should have enabled Jesus to deliver a powerful message about the character and the danger of hypocrisy by using only a handful of words. Instead, the disciples inserted a meaning Jesus never intended and “heard” a message Jesus never delivered. Symbols can be great communication devices, but only if the meaning is made clear.
Symbols Can Be an Excuse ~
Let’s face it, if those who were living with Jesus every day needed to have a common symbol explained, we can be assured that our symbols need some help as well. Just pinning a cross on our lapel or putting a sticker on our car’s bumper doesn’t necessarily mean that people will grasp what it means. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with grabbing an emoji or adding a Christian symbol to our clothing, or displaying one on our car or social media profile. Attempting to express what we think, feel, or believe is a good thing, but symbols can be an excuse for not speaking up. What if someone asks why we displayed them, and what they mean? If we don’t have an explanation ready, they will insert a meaning of their own, just as Jesus’ disciples did. Had He not spoken up to clarify what “leaven” meant, the disciples may have ended up fighting about who had to go back and retrieve something for dinner, instead of contemplating the contagious spiritual and moral danger of hypocrisy.
The first challenge of communicating the Gospel is not to look around for a handy symbol that we hope conveys a generalized Christian statement. It begins by exploring our own heart and clarifying honestly what Jesus and the cross means to us. . . Sometimes even an emoji needs to be explained.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “The entire Mosaic system of worship was an exercise in symbolism and typology designed to define and illustrate the redemption that His Son would eventually accomplish in every detail.” GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Attempting to express what we think, feel, or believe is a good thing, but symbols can be an excuse for not speaking up.” GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “If we don’t have an explanation ready when someone asks why we display certain symbols and what they mean, they will insert a meaning of their own, just as Jesus’ disciples did. Matthew 16:9-12 (NKJV)” GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The first challenge of communicating the Gospel is not to look around for a handy symbol that we hope conveys a generalized Christian statement. It begins by exploring our own heart and clarifying honestly what Jesus and the cross means to us.” GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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