How Should We Then Drive?
Stroll the parking lot of a Reformed church on a Sunday morning, and you may notice a few things.
One may be the preponderance of minivans and the abundance of covenant children. Another observation might focus again on said vehicles, for several cars feature a small, simply drawn fish.
Whence the Fish?
The meaning of this little fish is probably well-known as part of the body of Christian symbolism. You might also know that the fish has a long history, chosen as an insignia already by Christians in the first few centuries.
The precise reason for their choice has been clouded with the passage of time. Some point to the importance of fish in the ministry of Jesus, such as at the feeding of the 5000, or the miraculous catch of the 153. Others suggest a link with Jesus’s words about his disciples becoming fishers of men.
More likely, the fish was chosen as symbol because of what its Greek letters signify.
The Greek word for fish is ichthus (as in ichthyophagous, “fish-eating”). This can be rendered nicely as a monogram with its five Greek letters, representing the Greek words Hesous Christos Theou Huios Soter. This fish monogram thus points to him who is the centre of our faith, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Saviour.”
The Fish’s Journey
The history behind our present-day bumper fish presents an interesting contrast. Tradition has it that in the early church, the fish was employed as a secret symbol. Believers gathering during times of persecution would mark their clandestine meeting places with the fish. The door with the ichthus would be opened only by a friend, one who knew the fish as a Christian symbol.
Unless I am mistaken, the fish on our bumpers (and necklaces and tie clips and business advertisements) has a rather different—even opposite—function. No longer is it a secret symbol meant for those in the know, but now it says publicly to others who see it, “This person is a Christian.”
More Fish in the Sea
Not all passing strangers know the meaning of our bumper fish. But that the fish is recognized as Christian is evidenced in the occasional appearance of other fish on our highways and t-shirt racks.
Some have irreverently taken the familiar Christian fish, appended two short legs, and added the name of that most famous evolutionist: Darwin. Thus, a fish that could be said to symbolize the forgiving grace of the one true God in his Son Jesus Christ has been twisted into pointing to a God-less universe ruled by the impersonal principle of natural selection.
The “Darwin fish” has not gone unopposed, however. Some people have reversed the image the image. Evolution’s sea-land link is shown to be what it’s worth by affixing the decal upside down on one’s bumper—or even being swallowed up by the Truth.
Small Fish in a Big Pond
Whatever the fish insignia adopted, we make a statement with our design of choice. Just as most of us will try to decipher that personalized license plate on the car ahead of us, or try to get close enough to safely read a cryptic bumper sticker, the fish on our vehicles probably triggers some thought process that may find its end in, “Oh, I think it’s a Christian symbol.”
But do our bumper fish register with people more than any another ambling roadway thought about the price of gas or the new Toyotas? The same question could be asked about any sticker we place on our vehicle, like our pro-life or anti-euthanasia decal.
As with these other statements, the bumper fish marks us firstly as Christians, a declaration of some value in a godless country. And when one “fish” passes another on the highway, there can even be a feeling of solidarity—somehow it is encouraging to see another Christian on his way in the world.
On the Behaviour of Fish
Our bumper fish can have other value too, for it means our conduct as drivers should function as a witness. Though highways and streets are impersonal settings, here we can express a readable testimony to the Lord’s place in our life. In an age of road rage and general aggression, a calm, courteous and obedient driver can stand out as a welcome aberration.
And the fish, if recognized as a Christian symbol, can hint at the reason this driver stopped to allow a whole line of cars to merge.
Just like when we tell someone that we are Christians, those who see and understand the fish will probably not only watch for positive actions, but for negative. The rules of the road are many, and many are the habitual minor infractions. But major or minor, though we gave that group of pedestrians plenty of time at the last intersection, the person behind us will probably take cynical note when we take liberties with the next yellow light.
For don’t we kind of expect people to drive in a manner consistent with whatever message their car communicates? A person with a sticker boasting “50 Years Member” of some organization will probably drive slowly. A person with a pickup truck boasting NASCAR decals will probably drive aggressively. And a person with a “Darwin fish” will drive without any regard for the inferior others, constantly trying to get ahead of the rest.
How should we then drive?
The Net Result
You might not have a fish on the back of your car. But we’re all able to make simple statements wherever God has put us, whether driving, doing business, or being a good neighbour. In a society that is confused and searching for something more, God is conforming us to the image of his Son. And that makes us stand out.
Through God’s sanctifying Spirit, our life in its entirety can be a witness to “Jesus Christ the Son of God, our Saviour.”