Last month I worked on a few drawings of the armor of God. This is referencing the passage in Ephesians 6:10-20 Where St. Paul uses the imagery of a soldier to describe the life of saints (Followers of Christ). I have the passage at the bottom of this post if you would like to read it.
It is a difficult task to try to capture the imagination of someone who lived 2000 years ago under Roman rule – and to illustrate his idea in a fresh way. “The Armor of God” is often a Sunday-School concepts that gets placed in front of many little boys to make it seem cool. Sometimes these images are cartoony, other times they are outright gory, other times the image is a medieval crusader (which isn’t the right historical context, and has nothing to do with what Paul was actually saying). Little time is really spent thinking about or discussing what these symbols mean. Usually kids get a little craft project where they cut out the armor and paste it on a figure. We then forget how serious this topic really is – and sometimes we think that the content is about military conquest not spiritual conquest (I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment).
So what are the symbols here and why did I choose them?
“belt of truth“ – Upon the figure’s belt I’ve drawn a small “Lamp-stand” to represent truth. The lamp-stand represents this well because light can show us the “way without stumbling”. The metaphor here is that Christ’s message shows us a way that does not stumble so heavily in an apathetic life (Where the “darkness” of apathy often surrounds us and keeps us from being empathetic to the needs of others).
“breastplate of righteousness” Upon the figure’s chest I’ve drawn a small cross to represent righteousness. Most people would think of the cross as a symbol of sacrifice, however I see it more as a culmination of Jesus’ teachings, where he is not just saying, ‘turn the other cheek’ but he is actually doing it. Upon the cross he demonstrates love for those who are doing this to him, saying, “forgive them for they know not what they do”. Righteousness and innocence can go hand in hand – and the fact that Jesus did not commit any crime demonstrates his innocence. (Another good symbol for this is the “crown of thorns” – righteousness being a crown of ‘greatness’ that can only be worn through suffering for others).
“shield of faith” Upon the shield of faith (which is the large circle behind the figure) you will find a small anchor inscribed. What is meant by faith is often, “allegiance” and so the anchor is a symbol of deep resolve, long suffering, and dedication to the cause. And in this case we are talking about the cause of Christ and His radical love (or we could even say, his ridiculous love). This shield, faith, can be used to “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” What is meant by that – I think what is meant is that we can overcome the doubts and our temptations to stray back into apathy. Faith, our resolve, can help us press on.
“helmet of salvation” To represent the Helm I’ve drawn an orb, or halo. Often what has bothered me about halos and their use in the church is that it makes it seem like there is something special about the person, something special about them is making them “shine”. In this case I’ve made salvation into something put on, and so it isn’t something about them that is special – the “light” of the halo extends from another symbol over the figure’s head, not from himself. This symbol is a Triangle being pierced by a nail, from which blood drips. This is my symbol for salvation. If you are familiar with Christian symbols you would know that the Triangle represents the Holy Trinity – the three aspects of God – “father, son, and holy spirit”. So you might think, “Oh so this represents Christ being pierced upon the cross” – but it is more than that – it represents the mentality of God (the mentality of Love – for God is Love). I believe that salvation is not so much about the afterlife but more about putting on God, putting on His mentality, God’s mentality of self-sacrifice, His mentality of turning the other cheek, forgiveness. I say this because for me, Christ has brought me salvation from apathy (The kind of apathy that makes me shrug at suffering). I believe that through Christ we can put on a new life, a new mentality. In fact, in my drawings I will use a halo with a black downward pointing triangle to represent apathy (I might post one of those in a few weeks) the opposite of salvation.
“sword of the Spirit” this is a difficult symbols to illustrate. Often a “flaming sword” is used, however, when I see this it makes me feel like the ‘soldier’ is more powerful and violent – when this isn’t what Paul is talking about at all. So. I’ve intentional pointed this sword downward. Paul says that this sword is “the word of God” – most people misunderstand this to mean, “The Bible” but the Bible as it is today didn’t exist when Paul was writing this letter (the sword is not the Bible). When Paul says “word” he means “message”, he uses the Greek word, ‘logos’ (and this is what is written on the sword in the drawing). So… what is “the message”? In my life I’ve experienced that apathy (my apathy towards others) comes from three things, three mentalities: My Identity (in who I am and what I’ve done), My Purpose (or lack there of, because life is short and everyone dies), And my Significance (or importance – or lack of importance). Within Christian tradition we talk about, “Sin, Death and the Devil” to represent these things (or you might say ‘personify’). So in my life I’ve done regrettable things, and it makes me think I’m a bad person – that this is my “Identity” to be bad. In life I also feel the end, death, coming and I’m afraid of it, and I try to make the best of it and take shortcuts – and this can keep me from caring about other people. Other times, I think that I’m a good person, I’m important, significant, I really have helped people, and somehow that arrogance becomes an excuse to not help the person right in front of me. I believe that Christ’s life and teaching provide a message, a way to break away from apathy, the apathy that has been festering in us because of “Sin, Death and the Devil”(identity, purpose, significance) their chains can be broken and we can enter into a new life of radical love, unhindered, unshackled from all the baggage. That’s the message!
With each item above, I think it is important to consider that Paul thought of these things as items we put on, that our ‘righteousness’ or our ‘salvation’ isn’t our own, it isn’t something we’ve earned but something we put on, something we have been given – aspects of a new mentality on life.
Now I’ve described the symbols in the armor but that’s not all! One more symbol that you will find is shackles. On the arms of these figures, and on the neck of one, you will find shackles with chains hanging down. These chains have been broken – and this shows that the “holy warrior” is a redeemed slave to sin, that he was once bound in apathy but is now free from it.
So earlier I mentioned “spiritual conquest”, and I’ve called these figures “holy warriors”. And I don’t want anyone to misunderstand what I mean by this. “Spiritual conquest” is NOT one of physical armaments or political revolutions, it is rather a conquest against apathy, a revolution in the heart. The “holy warrior” struggles against apathy in his own life but also struggles to unshackle those around him, he uses his “sword” to bring others life and free them from indifference. This “battle” is completely intangible – and to show this I’ve used a few other symbols – I’ve distressed (damaged) the paper which makes these drawings look ancient even timeless – and being able to “damaging” the work also shows that the drawing itself isn’t really precious or “valuable” to me as a tangible thing. In fact I know, in time, the drawing will eventually crumble away to dust (just like each of us). The message, however, can outlast the drawing. You might also notice that the fist Holy warrior above has no face – the face has actually been scraped away in the distressing process – interestingly this can represent a freedom from an old identity – when picking up a new Identity in Christ the old identity is scraped away.
Lastly – the pen & ink style/technique I use is filled with symbols. Ink itself is a process that is very risky, each mark is a commitment, nothing can be taken back (which I find to be very poetic- and an exciting, risky, way to work). Everything is drawn from simple, non-expressive marks: lines, dots and spirals – which brings a high amount of intentionality into each mark. I don’t add white lines over top of the ink but leave behind “white marks” through my use of the negative space. You can see other examples of this technique throughout my blog.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” Ephesians 6:10-20 (ESV). In the Anglican Church this passage is often read during early November.