A young boy goes sees his fathers hammer and can’t resist the temptation to grab it and use it. The father soon hears the hammer being used and finds the boy. One father approaches the boy and says
“A wise child uses twice as much care with his father’s things as he does with his own.”
Another father says,
“If you break anything with that hammer, you’re going to be in big trouble.” One of these is said by the father of a child of an eastern or Hebrew culture; the other by one of a western or Greek culture. Do you know which? Yes, the “wise child” statement is of eastern culture and the more specific “hammer” one is of western.
Symbolism-- the use of one idea to cause the mind to think for itself to comprehend a larger and possibly more complex idea. That may not be a dictionary definition, but it seems to serve well here.
While the Statement about the “wise child” may not be use of direct symbolism, it does follow my above definition. Why do two fathers see their son doing the same thing, yet use such different ways to let the child know that he’ll be in big trouble if anything is damaged? It’s a way of thinking. We who are of western culture would expect to hear the more direct “hammer” warning. Both work at getting the thought across, but the first does encompass a lot more than the hammer. The difficulty with the “wise child” warning is that the child must think, “I want to be a wise child. why would it be wise to be more careful with Dad’s things...I’ll be in big trouble if I’m not.” There is also difficulty with the “hammer” method. The child might just go out and start playing with a saw. Then after he’s cut all the legs of a table, he’ll wonder why he’s in trouble.
The Lord uses both the direct and the indirect (symbolism) to get his point across. We, his children need to learn how to “decode” the symbolism. I think that most of the time it’s not that the “decoding” job is difficult, but rather we’re just not accustomed to thinking though such language. We tend to want everything to be in plain, straight forward, language. I suggest, however, that it’s in the really thinking out the symbolism that we internalize the principle taught and therefore can more efficiently act on it.
Every symbol has a logical progression or connection:
Health in the navel... the path through which life and strength are given/received. —Thus a symbol of spiritual life and strength given/received.
Marrow in the bones... inner source of life as it is where blood in manufactured. —Thus the source of inner strength, etc.
Green... life, spring, renewal... I’ll let you think this one through the rest of the way.
By pondering and learning though symbolism we can internalize each principle and as we study principle upon principle, we can begin to see the whole picture more clearly. Maybe a better way of putting it would be that the symbolism helps us see just how the principle fits in with others to complete the picture.
Tresta Neil is a homeschool mother of eight. She was born with curiosity and increases that curiosity through symbology!