Did you read A Separate Peace by John Knowles? Two friends, Gene and Phineas (nicknamed Finny), in a tree. Gene shakes a branch, Finny falls, breaks his leg, and the halcyon innocence of the summer ends. Previously a great athlete, Finny will never play sports again. When he finally returns to school, the other students set up a mock trial to determine whether or not Gene caused Finny’s fall. As it becomes evident that he did, Finny leaves in a huff, falls down a set of marble stairs, and breaks his leg again. Finny dies during the operation to set his leg. Finny’s death gives Gene a certain peace.
I mention this book because it is so full of symbolism. A period of innocence that ends with a fall at a significant tree. This is just like the Garden of Eden. Then the death of the one sinned against gives peace to the one who caused the fall. I can remember my English teacher in High School talking about how Finny was a Christ figure.
Finny is called a “Christ figure” because of the way what happens to him corresponds to what happened to Jesus both in terms of the events that took place and in the significance of those events for others. The tree becomes a symbol as it plays into the enmity between Gene and Finny, the trips to the tree provoke Gene against Finny, then it’s the scene of the crime, where the fall from the tree eventually led to Finny’s death. And to this tree Gene returns, resulting in him telling us his story.
If we don’t understand the symbolism of the book, we won’t understand the author’s message. This is true for A Separate Peace, and it’s also true for the Bible.
The Bible’s symbolism summarizes and interprets the Bible’s big story.
On Sunday, August 28, 2011, it was my privilege to preach the second of three sermons on biblical theology at Kenwood. We focused on the images, types, and patterns that the biblical authors use to build the Bible’s symbolic universe: A Set of Symbols: Images, Types, and Patterns.
We looked at two images: the tree and the temple; three kinds of types: people, events, and institutions; and two patterns: Israel’s feasts and the righteous sufferer. Summarizing and interpreting the narrative, the symbolism the biblical authors employ adds texture and deepens our ability to enter into the story they tell.