Everyone has their symbols. My friends know me as the one who always wears a golden compass, whether on a necklace or a ring. To me, it represents a desire for direction, trusting God has crafted an arrowhead for me to follow. It is a nice thought—that any compass I see is always directing me, metaphorically speaking, of course. It is comforting.
This seems like a universal experience. We all have things we latch onto, confident in their ability to bring us luck or ground us in certain memories or truths. In truth, symbols are such a part of life that God constantly uses them to speak to us. Yet, the dictionary definition of a “symbol” is something that stands in the place or represents something else. What happens when we become so fixated on the symbol we forget the meaning behind it?
At the end of the day, no matter how many lines I draw from a compass to my personal faith, it is only a symbol. My necklace may be a daily reminder, but I could always lose it, just as I lost the ring a few months ago. I have to catch myself before I come to over-rely on these treasured symbols. It is dangerously easy to become fixated on the aesthetics of a Christian lifestyle and the symbols it provides us with, and we are tempted to become reliant on these symbols as assurances of a healthy faith. The compass around my neck might mean I generally look to the Lord for a sense of direction… but am I actively praying and asking God to rule over my future? How easily we can fall into complacency!
Yet symbols aren’t all bad, as long as they do not replace the thing they are representing. God consistently uses symbols throughout the Bible as a way to prove to us His constancy. Through parables, Jesus taught those around Him truths and lessons by giving them stories that they could understand, for they did not see nor hear nor understand these before (Matthew 13:13). Jesus used the symbol of taking up one’s cross as a call to become dead to ourselves in order to live for Jesus (Matthew 16:24-25).
One of the most profound symbols apart from the cross exists in the torn curtain. As Jesus laid dying upon the cross, He experienced the truest loneliness and abandonment that exists. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In that instant, Jesus was cut off from God—experiencing the fate we deserved. In taking this burden of depthless loneliness from us, Jesus gifted us direct access to God through His Holy Spirit. “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51). The curtain of the Holy of Holies, where the Spirit of God dwelled, only to be visited by the designated priest, tears in two: a show of God’s presence leaving this physical home and becoming something we might experience firsthand. In His death, Jesus handed us the chance at a relationship with God.
In a way, God uses symbols to remind us of the fickle nature of our world. God didn’t need to tear the curtain in two; His spirit didn’t need to “escape.” The torn curtain serves as a symbol of how temporary a home the Holy of Holies was, and how permanent and preeminent the spirit of God is. God is so much greater than the symbols we confine Him to.
Especially this past year, we have become keenly aware of the temporary nature and instability of our world. We see what little value was contained in the things we once thought were long-lasting and constant. Our symbols and our routines fell flat as our world turned into a ghost town. Admittedly, my compass necklace was not able to handle a year-long global pandemic. If I had any faith in “direction,” it was misplaced, because last year it was truly difficult to feel the constant, steady hand of God.
Where should we look for constancy then, when our routines, our superstitions, and our symbols fail us? We find complete consistency in the one true God. He is consistent when the rest of the world is not. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). That does not mean we can always perceive that consistency, but by faith we trust that He is near and in control. We can lay our souls to rest in the holes in His hands, taking refuge in the fact that He endured pain and suffering so He could be constantly and unfailingly there for us.
Because of this, we get to experience God, imbued with His peace and reassurance through knowing our Creator. In His presence, we see that He is not a message-in-the-bottle type of god, nor one with an open and closing time. He is our 24/7 God. He is the same God of the Old Testament, the same God of the New Testament, the same God that carried you through your lowest valley and the same God that raised you up and lit your path in the moments you were surrounded by utter darkness. He is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). No childish act of rebellion can make Him turn His back on us. We are dear to Him, treasured and precious (Isaiah 43:4).
He does not change His character when our lives change direction. A plot twist is no surprise and no accident to our Author. Our Maker does not make mistakes or leave His masterpieces unfinished, for we are God’s handiwork (Ephesians 2:10 NIV). When our lives feel like we are going a million miles a minute, He is our Anchor. He is our Shepherd who leads us beside still waters (Psalm 23:2). He has created a beautiful scene for us, a refuge, a place of rest and peace where He can be by our side and accompany us through this world and into the next.
If we earnestly seek His presence, we will find that God is always constant. We have the opportunity to enter into a relationship with the ultimate, unchanging God, who is our unfailing source of stability. And for a relationship to work, we must offer up our presence as well. Only by laying down our conscience at His feet can we experience His presence and feel the blessed relief of a future secured.
God has gifted us with many objects of creation that can tell of His beauty. We can find reminders of His love every day. However, let us not cling to symbols, but the essential truths behind them. Let us not be caught up in this world and its false promises of security and constancy. We are never guaranteed tomorrow, but we are guaranteed eternity. In pursuing the constant God, and clinging to these truths, we are confident the world cannot steal our fate from us. Our future has been secured, and our God will lead us all the way until Forever!