Years ago I served in the US Navy. I would not describe myself as being gung ho back then, and even less now. But I did like certain aspects of Naval and Maritime tradition. One of those is the use of signal flags to give line of sight communication between ships. Even today, there can be times that this is not such a bad thing, especially when one is trying to maintain silence on the airwaves.
I had a bumper sticker on the back of my car with the signal flags shown above. Below the flags was a translation… or at least the conversion to the Latin alphabet since the message in signal flags is in English.
I told people on a Religion Forum about the bumper sticker (this was back in the late 80s and any picture file was an unnecessary indulgence considering the baud rate at that time). I got a response back that it was a really nice bumper sticker, but that it would be even more cool if it did not have the “translation” under it. At the time, I thought that rather silly. Of course, you want it translated so as many people as possible would be able to quickly read the message.
However, over the years, I have come to suspect that my friend was right. It might have been better to leave the message only as signal flags. Why?
1. Living in a Navy town, many could read signal flags, so many could understand the message without help.
2. The process of converting the flags into an understandable message is a bit of a mental challenge (except, perhaps, for Navy Signalmen) so the message is more likely to be noted and retained.
3. For a lot of Navy guys, the mental challenge can also be fun. Perhaps this is even more true for retirees.People like puzzles at lot of the time.
4. People have a fascination with secret knowledge. This, I suppose, was part of the allure of the Mystery religions and the various Gnostic cults. Even today, one of the best ways to get people to read various newsie items or clickbait on the Internet is to imply it contains “secret” knowledge. “I Was Amazed to Learn this Simple SHOCKING Secret to ______________.” Making knowledge appear to be secret (or only available to the initiated) while still making it accessible, can make the same knowledge seem more valuable.
This last point is a bit touchy when it comes to Christianity. Christianity is built from the words and example of Christ and the Apostles, and its underlying secret (just like in Kung Fu Panda) is that there ARE NO SECRETS. At the same time, one can argue that one of the several reasons that Jesus spoke in parables was to ensure that his disciples understood things that many outsiders did not get. There is an appeal to insider knowledge.
So should we always translate God’s message to be as clear and accessible to as many as possible? I would tend to think so, generally. But are there times that making people work a bit to understand will serve as a mnemonic aid, and also make them value the message more??? Perhaps. I know children back in the late years of radio would love to get “decoder rings” in the mail to be able to interpret secret (and commonly mundane) messages they get from their favorite shows
We can test that. If you want to interpret the flag message above,click on this, SIGNAL FLAGS, for help.
Decide for yourself… was the message enhanced through the effort, or not?