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Nine Moons » Blog Archive : Signs, Symbols and Allegory » Signs, Symbols and Allegory

Signs, Symbols and Allegory

Christian J - June 18, 2008

I’m a visual learner. I also love to spot poetry in everyday situations, objects and people. So, when me and my wife were asked to give a talk on symbols and allegories in the gospel (past and present), a flood of thoughts came into my mind.

My wife on the other hand admitted that she often grows tired of the stories presented to represent profound gospel teachings. “Just say it!” she exclaims. She does love a good story (preferably fiction) and even some poetry (her favorite is 19 Varieties of Gazelle by Naomi Shihab Nye) but usually its the straight forward/say it like it is kind.

So I think we’ll be fine for this Sunday but was wondering what the readers of 9M thought about the use of symbols and allegory in the gospel. Did Christ teach in parables just so we would have something to talk about for the next few thousand years – or is it simply because we forget too easily the constant mercies of God and his Son? Are you like my wife – tired of the poetic mumbo jumbo?


  1. My husband doesn’t like the poetic stuff. I love it. He can’t stand Isaiah—I love him. Although the last time they covered Isaiah in GD class he came home excited because of some stuff they’d learned from it.

    Comment by Susan M — June 18, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  2. Symbols and allegory do two main things for me. First, it makes me dig deeper, anxiously searching for answers as well as more questions. Second, it leaves a deeper impact on my mind and helps me remember more/better.

    Just think of the symbol of something say as simple as baptism. How much would it impact your life if your baptism consisted of someone declaring over the pulpit “You’re baptized!” over actually going through the symbolism of it. Same with the sacrament, washings/anointings, etc. etc.

    Comment by Bret — June 18, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

  3. Between learning to recognize the symbols in our every-day lives, the pursuit of their meaning, and learning to accept their changes has certainly kept us busy since we’ve been on this earth. And while learning to do these things does require an effort on our part, I think the fact that Heavenly Father functions through symbols and patterns says more about Him than it does the fact that he wants us to “think hard.” I think like any one of us, He wants us to understand who He is as a creator. And the fact that God has the mind of a poet to create the metaphors between his creations, and the scientific precision to create the mechanics behind them, testifies to us of what we have the potential to become.

    No small wonders;)

    Comment by paradox — June 18, 2008 @ 4:42 pm

  4. I need somebody to walk me through it, much like Julie is doing with Revelation at T&S. I don’t need all the answers, but do need some leading questions — “Why is water used in baptism?” “What does the color white add to the meaning?” “What does immersion suggest that sprinkling cannot suggest?” and so on.

    When I catch on, I really, really enjoy finding more. I remember when the idea of types and shadows of Christ caught my imagination — I added several dozen instances to the list in the Topical Guide. But without somebody walking me through Moses’s brazen serpent in the desert, I probably never would have spotted types and shadows on my own.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 18, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

  5. When I taught the New Testament to 11-12 year old Primary kids, we read and talked about most of the prominent parables of Jesus. There were reasons given in the lesson manual about why Christ taught in parables and he gave reasons for them to his disciples as well. But when we read through them recently, it occurred to me that one of the reasons that parables work is that the meaning of them is more accurately transmitted across centuries of time and otherwise insurmountable obstacles of different cultures and languages, better than if the doctrines were given in a more straightforward manner. It also occurred to me that Christ was a genius (naturally) at choosing the symbols on which to base his parables, because the analogies don’t break down at some point. Read ‘em and see for yourself how well they still convey his intended meaning. Especially the many-layered and subtle Prodigal Son. I still don’t think I’ve gotten everything out of that one that is there to glean.
    Which brings me to another reason of my own for which the Lord may serve us so many puzzlers. Our brains don’t store and recall information very well when it is given to us in a straightforward manner, but when we have to work at it somehow, to puzzle it out and turn a few mental corners first, we internalize the message far better than if we just have it handed to us.

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — June 18, 2008 @ 8:48 pm

  6. If lay members were better speakers, I’d probably be less interested in the use of stories.

    Comment by Kim Siever — June 19, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  7. I love poetic mumbo-jumbo and I think it helps us understand concepts – at least some of them – better than if we just considered the facts. I also think it helps us realize and consider that so many things are related in our life. Recently I took an evening institute class about the Life and Times of Jesus Christ. We spent one whole evening discussing how so many characters in the scriptures – seemingly all of them – have a Christ-like story. In other words, there is a Savior figure who sacrifices his/her life or comfort for the benefit and saving of others. It was a very interesting discussion and if I was as talented and knowledgeable as the instructor I could probably relate some examples. But…..

    Comment by lamonte — June 19, 2008 @ 9:53 am

  8. Like cj’s wife I do sometimes get tired of all the stories. Not in the scriptures, necessarily, but allegories about pickles and kids taking each others lickin’s and all that stuff seems a bit silly sometimes. And I have wondered in the past why people don’t just talk and say what they want to say. But I’ve come to see the value in good stories.

    First of all, even if that’s not the way I prefer to learn, there are people who do learn better and respond better to a symbolic story.

    And second, good stories can have the same kind of power as good literature or good film. These artistic media can convey certain truths more powerfully and effectively than any essay. Kubric could have written an essay about the absurdity of the cold war, but no essay could come close to communicating that point as well as Dr. Strangelove.

    I don’t think most of the stories we tell reach the level of powerful literature, but stories do things that exposition can’t.

    Comment by Tom — June 19, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

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