We all like, use, recognize, and value symbols. Every team has a symbol, usually called a mascot, and every organization has its unique symbol that conveys an idea or philosophy in a visual representation. But can a symbol be a reality or is each one destined to be just a graphic depiction of a firm, team, philosophy, or whatever?
For example, there are many types of crosses. However, the type that interests me is the Latin cross, the one derived from the Latin word crux, which means stake/cross and was an instrument of torture for the Romans. The Latin cross is used by Christians to symbolize the Crucifixion and their belief in Christ and a representation is mounted on every Christian church steeple, will be found throughout such churches, and is worn around the neck of many Christians. It has also evolved into an ornamental piece of jewelry worn by many folk.
The Romans most likely learned the art of crucifixion from the Carthaginians, but they perfected it. It was a gruesome death caused by asphyxiation when the weight of the condemned prevented breathing. It was used as a public means of control and only the worst criminals suffered it. The Roman politician Cicero describes it as “the most cruel and hideous of tortures.”
Yet the Christian crosses seen today are neat and tidy. Their metal shines and there is no blood, sweat, excrement, or skin left on the vertical or horizontal wood pieces. I have even heard discussions in Sunday Schools centered around what method of killing would be used today that is comparable to what Jesus suffered. Can any method of execution compare to crucifixion except perhaps a lynching as done during Jim Crow?
Small, gold crosses are often worn by various folk, and when I see one adorning the neck of a person I assume that that person is a Christian, a Christ follower. No problem with that as long as the person realizes that when he or she places that tidy cross around the neck, they are cloaking themselves with Jesus Christ and that cloaking, if being sincerely done, has demands. Or, like so often done, the small, gold cross can be a symbol, making it an empty gesture.
However, a short conversation with such a wearer will reveal if the cross worn is a symbol. When a wearer speaks for discord and supports lies and is rude and espouses vile beliefs of other persons, it is likely that the cross is just a symbol. Their words and subsequent actions show that they are not true Christ followers, just opportunists who wear the cross for show. And this person likely wears the cross on the outside of clothing in such a manner that everyone can see it—a public display.
Oswald Chambers, the Scottish theologian, wrote in 1911, “The Cross is a Reality, not a symbol.” For a Christ follower, the reality of the cross on which our Savior suffered is so honest that such a believer would not make it a prop. The truth of the cross is too painful and while it must be held close and maybe used in places of worship, we must be truthful and not allow it to become a mere symbol. In so doing it becomes about us and not Him.