It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The danger in this allusion to simple imagery is that we expect it to tell the whole story. That's often impossible. We are image-driven in this generation; too pre-occupied or lazy to investigate a person, cause or incident for ourselves - relying on 15 second audio or video bytes to tell us all we care to know. But these can be misunderstood, misapplied or manipulated to mean something not intended.
We have recently had an image shown on our televisions and in newspapers and magazines that has been heralded as breathtaking and historic - compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall - the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue. Will it have the same visual and emotional impact as the ticker-tape welcome of WWII G.I.'s, the napalmed Vietnamese child fleeing her village or the first picture of earth beamed back from space? Only time will tell.
The undeniable value of imagery is its ability to quickly convey a message and evoke strong emotion. The danger is that it can just as readily disguise an issue, influencing emotions and activity inappropriately. (Such as the KKK's burning cross) Images can be superficial as well as bearing messages of intellectual depth. It often depends on the objectivity of those "reading" the message and what they're looking for.
Imagery is more often than not used to convince people to do something they otherwise wouldn't do, to buy products they've never used, to trust someone they don't know. The old adage - If you repeat a lie enough times, it becomes true - has been borne out repeatedly. It was re-enforced for me as I observed countless pictures and statues erected across Iraq portraying Saddam Hussein as a benevolent father-figure; the source of military, political and economic security. Even as he rapaciously plundered the country of its oil revenues, torturing and killing anyone who questioned or opposed him.
Some believe image is everything. Here in the U.S. this past week it was reported that a Utah man sued for the right to pray at his local council meetings. The irony being he is an avowed atheist! To whom would he pray and for what purpose? He actually wanted a forum from which to question, belittle and condemn. If Christians can pray for a gathering - he must be allowed to pray against it - the equality of imagery being of over-riding importance to him. (Let's not forget that the root word of imagination is image. If I can imagine it - maybe it's real.)
As I compare the many images used to convince us of the value of the newest cause celebre with the Statue of Liberty or the Lincoln Memorial, I am bewildered when people unquestioningly accept them while taking the sacrifices of freedom for granted. Most are often no more than the "white-washed tombs" of Matthew 23:27, 28; made presentable for public display on the outside but full of filth and corruption inside.
Print and broadcast journalism can be an invaluable source of information or a waste of time; even cartoons having become a contentious means of expressing opinion. Politics, almost exclusively image-driven today, occasionally makes bold statements but frequently represents itself as having a substance it doesn't follow up with. Art can be used to edify or debase as well, again highlighting the truth of scripture. "The eye is the lamp of the body. (That which illuminates the mind and soul.) If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. (Motivating wholesome activity.) But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." (Matthew 6:22, 23)
Which brings us to the cross, "...the power of God..." in the lives of those being saved. (1 Corinthians 1:18) A simple image expressing a multitude of ideas, evoking all kinds of emotion. It represents our faith, our Savior, his sacrifice; salvation by virtue of his resurrection. As such it speaks of life and death, conveying the emotions of hate and love. It provides a sense of security while demanding by its very nature a willingness to sacrifice. (Luke 9:23) Does it restrict our lifestyle or free us from enslaving behavior? That depends on your understanding of Christ's call and purpose for your life. For an image's inherent worth is not found in its "snap-shot" representation but in the deeds it honestly depicts and inspires - the depth beyond imagery.
Peter was speaking to us as well as the Pentecost crowd when he said, "Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs,... This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose... and you... put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from the dead,..." This elicited a cry of, "...what shall we do?" To which Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, (another powerful image)...for the forgiveness of your sins.", and receipt of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:22-24 and 37, 38) Paul would later add, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." (Acts 26:20)
This represents depth beyond mere imagery, available to those who seriously seek to understand and apply, with the Holy Spirit's help, that understanding to life. That which before Christ, "No eye (had) seen, no ear (had) heard, no mind (had) conceived..." (1 Corinthians 2:1-14)
This image - of the cross - represents the Christ of the cross, the faith we have in him and the power of the resurrection, instilling us with confidence to face life and its trials, embracing its joys and sharing him with others. Therefore, we must not be, "...ashamed of the gospel (it represents), because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)
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