In 1969 I remember walking back to my office on 42nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues after lunch and stopping to look at an intriguing poster on a storefront window. It depicted an innocent white dove taking down a predatory hawk.
This was at the height of the Vietnam War, which was quickly becoming more unpopular with Americans. The poster made use of powerful symbolic images to communicate that peace was stronger than war and could actually conquer war.
As a creative writer at one of the world’s most prestigious advertising agencies, I appreciated the potent ability of symbols to deliver a message.
About five years later, in 1974, I was introduced to the theological ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg. His theology immediately resonated with my creative passions and inclinations.
Swedenborg stated that God’s Holy Word contained deeper levels of symbolic meaning. Take the biblical passage in Revelation 17:14:
These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them . . .
This passage refers to the Lord’s victory over all evil forces. That, everyone can understand. But according to Swedenborg, it will not be the Lord using physical force in this great battle but that God would obtain victory through pure innocence. That is why the Lord is referred to as a Lamb.
Wow! Scripture made use of the same kind of symbolism that I saw represented on the poster several years earlier. Innocence of heart trumps evil!
Then a strange new synapse took place inside my brain. Why was everyone capable of understanding the symbolism of that peace poster but few could apply that same symbolic interpretation to God’s Holy Word? Is not God Infinitely creative? Is God only capable of linear and literal communication?
As proof of this mental obscurity towards God’s Holy Word, the Jewish nation anxiously awaited a warrior-Messiah that would kick some “Roman” ass. Many Christians believe that Jesus will return to kick ass, as well. But only when individuals seek a pure and innocent heart will any true peace come into the world. You can’t legislate peace and love in the world or secure it by force. God’s law of Love has to be inscribed on each of our hearts.
When such a law finds its abode deep within our inner being it can then be said that we have truly been conquered (symbolically) by a gentle lamb. Or, an innocent dove. The real “truth” behind the Vietnam poster as well as Scripture is that the true battle takes place in our hearts and minds. God seeks to change our worldview. Only that can change the world.