Imagery

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”[c]
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[e] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 1:4-20 (NIV)

The city in which I currently live is the home of some amazing art museums. I have enjoyed going to two of them so far, one containing American art and the other one containing art from world renown artists including Monet and Picasso. I enjoy viewing the work, imaging what the artist is trying to communicate, and reading the information on the card next to the piece. Imagery is an amazing way to communicate a message. I struggle with abstract art because it is difficult for me to find the message in the imagery. 

Our passage today comes from a book of the Bible which can be confusing to some readers. The writing here is filled with imagery because it comes from a vision. The intent is to communicate a message, a telling of a story. Today we read about the very beginning of the vision, John, the one who is having the vision, finds himself in the heavenly throne room of God. He hears praises being sung, declarations of the wholeness of God made, and sees seven golden lampstands. Among these lampstands is a human whose description seems to indicate he is Jesus. John is told to write down all that he sees and hears so it may be shared with the churches. At the sight of the man, John falls to the ground because he realizes he is in a holy place before the Lord. The Lord touches John’s shoulder with the hand containing seven stars and tells him to not be afraid. Continuing, he explains the stars are the angels of the churches and the lampstands are the churches. The imagery here is magnificent. The use of the number seven in the Bible is meant to represent perfection and wholeness. Having the Lord stand among the lampstands communicates that the Lord is among the churches. The lampstands remind us that the role of the churches is to bring light to the world. The stars provide the reminder that there are messengers from God in the churches. As a whole, we are given a set of messages through the imagery of John’s vision.

Receiving a message through imagery is great but more important is what we do with that message. When an artist uses imagery to communicate a message, the intention may be to remind us of the beauty of creation, or it may be to make us aware of the plight of certain people, or it may be to prompt us to remember an historical event. If this message is received by us and we are moved to action or better educated, then the imagery works. In the words of this section of Revelation, we are reminded to be lights to the world, that the Lord is in our midst, and to listen to the messengers of God.

What are you going to do with this?

The Heart

I have observed over the years that most people want to appear to be good people. They desire others to see them in a positive light. Many will painstakingly do whatever it takes to present an admirable image to the world. I think this is strongly linked to our desire to be accepted, to belong, and to even be praised. This often leads to having a bit of a false self which is the one which we parade in front of others. When we are home, and or, alone, we act, speak, and think differently. Now having a public filter is often very wise because none of us have pure thoughts all the time, but when our false image becomes predominant, we have a problem.

As I have said before, I enjoy observing people. Since this has been a pastime for me for many years, I have become attuned to people’s nonverbal behaviors. I find that the nonverbals tell you about a person much more than their words. Because of this, an individual’s nonverbals can easily betray the true thoughts and responses. These betrayals give great insight into the true self, a glimpse into the person’s heart.

Some people have become very skilled at concealing their hearts. They have discovered how their nonverbal behaviors and their own words can give insight into their hearts. So they have learned skills which cover a large portion of their true self. However, there is one who can see beyond the skills and attempts to present a different image than that which is true. The one who sees directly into each person’s heart and knows every truth is the Lord.

The writer of Psalm 139 begins with this reminder: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” This author was very aware of the Lord’s ability to see into the heart. The Lord knows us completely. Not only is the Lord aware of those words we use and the actions taken which is visible to everyone, the Lord knows our thoughts and motivations. The Lord knows our attitudes and desires. Our good and our bad are laid bare before the Lord. There are no false pretenses or false images before our God.

While I am an astute observer, I must admit that some of my perceptions of others are limited. In some situations I speculate and use previous experiences to form opinions. This is not necessary with the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord is able to connect with our spirits in fullness. Our hearts cannot be fortified against the infiltrating eye of the Lord.

Even with all of this insight into the true person who I am, the Lord still loves me. The Lord knows my heart fully yet accepts and claims me as a child of God. The love overcomes any of the negative found in me. The Lord declares me good.

The Valley

Recently I was considering a very familiar psalm, Psalm 23. Like many others, I memorized this psalm as part of my Christian education when I was young. I will admit that I did not understand, or even think about the words in this psalm when I memorized it. Also like many, I came to know it as the psalm which had a sole purpose of being used when someone died. As I grew older and became better educated regarding this psalm, I have found that it serves more of a purpose than being a funeral psalm. I am considering writing a series of posts which explore the words of Psalm 23. However, my recent focus is on this phrase — “the valley of the shadow of death.”

Usually when we hear this phrase as the psalm is read, we associate it with the act of dying. For many of us this means a physical death. I do not disagree with this interpretation. I do think that there is more which can be considered here than solely physical death. One additional interpretation which I have been pondering is applying this phrase to periods of depression. The word which leads me to this interpretation is “shadow.” Depression can impact a person in similar ways to death.

Depression is a very real aspect of life. There is not one individual who has not experienced depression in some form over their lifetime. These experiences usually come and go at various times. From my own experience, I would say that when I have been in a period of depression, I felt as if my very life was being sucked out of me. I have no energy, no joy, no motivation. I felt like I am living in a shadow. I view these time periods as living in a valley, a valley which is dark and gloomy.

I am fortunate that I am able to climb out of the valley, out of the period of depression. This happens due to my having an excellent support system, especially my husband. Unfortunately, many individuals do not have a strong support system. Others have an outstanding support system but out of fear do not reach out and honestly share their depression with members of that group. Sometimes living in the valley of the shadow of death leads them to view physical death as the best way out of the valley. They feel alone and isolated even when they are surrounded by loving and supportive individuals. This is not because they are weak or selfish, in fact, they are usually the opposite of these traits.

One of my truths which has been a comfort and provides assistance during these times of depression is found in the words of the psalm following the above phrase: “I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me.” I am reminded that I am never alone. I am not alone when life is going smoothly, and I am not alone when the shadow overwhelms me in the valley. The strength of the Lord (rod and staff) sustains me when I am feeling weak.

Depression is very real. Depression is not a sign of weakness or inability, it is an emotion in life that accompanies difficult situations as a person perceives them. The psalmist knew and understood this, in fact, probably was experiencing this. My message for anyone experiencing depression is to realize a few truths:

  • You are not the only one to experience this.
  • You are not the only one who has ever gone through what you are currently going through.
  • You are never alone because the Lord is in the valley with you.
  • You have people around you who are desiring more than anything to be supportive and present without judgment.
  • The valley is not the whole but a part and there will be times that you can stand atop the nearby mountain which has formed part of the valley.

If you think someone might be struggling with depression, the most important thing that you can do is to be present in a nonjudgmental way. Listen without giving advice. Love without expecting anything. Show them how the Lord is with you in whatever you are experiencing.

Maybe you will look at Psalm 23 a little differently today.