It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. The danger in this allusion to simple imagery is that we often expect it to tell the whole story, and that’s impossible. The problem is compounded by the fact that we are an image-driven society; 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 again, these can be misunderstood, misapplied or manipulated to mean something they really don’t.
Some of the more easily recognized television images would be the World Trade towers crumbling to earth, the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue, which to some Iraqis was comparable to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall a few years earlier. Others remember the visual and emotional impact of 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. Even these however, at times mean different things to different people.
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 responses inappropriately. (Such as the KKK’s burning cross or the “unity” rainbow flag of the LGBT community.) Images are often superficial but can have intellectual depth as well, often depending on the objectivity of those “reading” the message and what they’re looking for.
Imagery is often used to convince people to do something they otherwise wouldn’t, to buy products they’ve never used, to trust someone they don’t know. The old adage – If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes true – proven true throughout history. The careers of North Korea’s Un, Iraq’s Hussein, Iran’s Khomeini, Germany’s Hitler, China’s Mao and Russia’s Lenin and Stalin proving the point; as they all used posters, statues, censored “news” reports and the like to portray themselves – with varying degrees of success – as benevolent father-figures; even as they murderously plundered their country’s economic resources while imprisoning, torturing and killing anyone who questioned or opposed them.
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. (Little more than “whitewashed tombs” referenced in Matthew 23:27,28) 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, our salvation; with an allusion to judgement as well. As such it speaks of life and death, providing a sense of security while demanding by its very nature a willingness to sacrifice on our part as well. (Luke 9:23) Raising the question for some, does it restrict our lifestyle or free us from enslaving behavior? Which 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,…” Which 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 & 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
That is the reality beyond the image (although by no means in its entirety), available to those who seriously seek to understand and apply the full meaning of the cross. That which – before Christ – “No eye (had) seen, no ear (had) heard, no mind (had) conceived…” (1 Corinthians 2:1-14)
The image of the cross represents the Christ of the cross, the faith we have in him and the power of his resurrection; instilling in us the confidence to face life’s trials and opportunities – rejoicing in the ministry of sharing him with others. Therefore, we must not be, “…ashamed of the gospel (and the life it represents), because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16
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