Monstrous Symbols

Do you remember films and story books about the Vikings? Their helmets had horns and the ships had monstrous wooden heads on the prow. Well here’s a real one, but it’s from the Roman period. It’s utterly hideous; one wonders why they would go to so much trouble to erect such a horrid image on their ship. It is thought that the image would scare off real demons and monsters, allowing the mariners to go about their business unmolested. So they made an image of the very thing they were afraid of- that they might not be afraid of the reality. 

I have no crosses or crucifixes up in my home, neither do I desire to see any at our chapel. Religious imagery has a habit of becoming a focus for devotion and idolatry. And yet the iconic symbol of the Christian faith fulfils the same function as the Romano-Gallic ship’s figure-head. It is a picture of the very thing we dread while being a reminder of why we need no longer dread it. For the Cross of Calvary represents eternal judgement, God’s wrath, painful separation, the horror of sin and all its terrible consequences. These are the very things that trouble the guilty conscience. And yet, to those who believe, that same cross is a symbol of God’s love, His forgiveness and our reconciliation. Superficially, it is a symbol of cruel torture and death; through faith, it is the means by which we sinners can be readmitted to our Eden. Perhaps those Roman and Viking shipwrights weren’t so illogical after all.