Symbol Usage

Recently a Christian told me that there was nothing he enjoyed more than lighting up a cigarette in front of other Christians just to make a statement.  Cigarette smoking has become for him a symbol that he uses to disassociate himself from a certain “brand” of Christianity.  Cigarette smoking in itself is not a symbol but when smoking is used to convey a message it becomes a symbol.

Whatever the motive behind your disciple’s symbols it is important for you to investigate them in order to know and understand him.  He may not even be aware that he has embraced certain symbols let alone what the motive is behind them and so it is your job to help him explore the reasoning in each of his symbols.  Some symbols are noble while others are self-destructive.

There are several ways that your disciple may use a symbol:

  1. Identification.  He chooses symbols to identify to whom or what he belongs.  Neal’s room is decorated in team pennants from the Bulls, Cubs, Bears, and Black Hawks as he unabashedly declares himself a Chicagoan.
  2. Disassociation.  Another use of a symbol is to distance oneself from a particular person, group, or ideology as seen in the cigarette illustration above.
  3. A Weapon.  Symbols can be used as a weapon to hurt others.  A child knows exactly which symbols will upset his parents or “get his parent’s goat” as the saying goes.  A child can also target his parents by desecrating a symbol that his parents hold dear.
  4. A Cry for help.  Your disciple may have cried out for help for years to his parents, friends, teachers, and to fellow believers to no avail, and so in desperation he turns to a “flare gun” symbol that he hopes will get someone’s attention.

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