Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Hieroglyph

“You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning.” ~ C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory.

Man’s best friend is not alone in finding himself confined to a world that is long on facts and short on meaning. Man himself, you've certainly noticed, is altogether capable of moving through a life that is all data and no conclusions. He too can inhabit a world that is basically shorn of any kind of real meaning.

But is this the proper way to read the world? As an answer to this question, consider the following: Suppose a man were to journey through the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Surveying wall after wall of hieroglyphs, his only conclusion is that the Egyptians were keen on miniature drawings of hawks and snakes and suns and so forth. In this case, would we not say, “Man, don’t you see that all of this means something? A hawk isn’t just a hawk. That beetle isn’t just a beetle. Those are symbols pointing beyond themselves. There is far more here than meets the eye.”

In much the same way, as we’ve spoken of the great narrative that encompasses history, it is exactly this kind of thinking that we're contesting. It's the notion that the world is all a lot of commotion signifying nothing we dispute. A story, you see, is not just the reportage of a sequence of brute, isolated facts. No, any story worth telling or being told has a plot, has meaning woven into it.

Ours is a hieroglyphic world. The things and events and people and great, forking networks of cause and effect mean something. And, as we saw last time, understanding the intensely personal nature of this tale is the first step towards discerning what this something is. The meaning of this story, you see, is inseparable from the key players in it. In addition to featuring the likes of you and me, it centers on a Person. And not just a person, but the Person, the One from whose absolute person-hood all others proceed like dim reflections or faint echoes. He is the one who broke into time from beyond it to become its center, to gather all of the strands of history in his hand and and lead it to a chosen conclusion, to be history’s meaning.

Knowing this, knowing that the story finds its center and culmination in him, is crucial to understanding the vast sweep of history in all its branching enormity. Miss this and it all looks like so much frothing chaos, from the large movements of civilizations down to the tedium of your own life. Then again, if we were to miss this, we would certainly not be the first. Even when Christ was among us, there were many who failed to grasp what they were witnessing.

Do you remember what Jesus used to say when he would set a parable before the people? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” I used to think that this was just rhetorical flourish, a catchy way of saying “Hey, if you’ve got ears - and I know you do - listen up.” But I was wrong. That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying, “If you have ears that can hear this, then understand.” Or, more properly, “If it has been given to you to perceive the truth of what I am now declaring, then understand these things.”

There were certainly many in the teeming masses who only heard stories about fish and wheat and cities on hills and did not perceive that he was wielding these symbols to speak of something infinitely greater. He was pointing to food, true spiritual food, and many were content to look at his hand. To them we can only say, “Man, don’t you see that all of this means something. A fish isn’t just a fish. That lost coin isn’t just a coin, it’s you. Living water isn’t just a drink. Those are symbols pointing beyond themselves. There is far more here than meets the eye.”

Even now the words of Christ hang in the air. If you have ears to hear, let them hear - let them hear that God in all of his fullness dwelled in the man Jesus Christ. Let them hear that in him God was both disclosing himself and reconciling a lost world.

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