In Genesis, the creation account talks about the passage of days before the sun was created. There was a light time and a dark time: a full day.
Now, when God did create the sun, He did not then spin the earth, wait to see how long it took to spin once, and then decide to make a day 24 hours long. God determined that a day would be 24 hours long before He made the first day. The sun and the rotation of the earth were set to conform to what God had already determined. We need to be sure we don’t get that backward.
It is the same with biblical symbolism. Biblical symbols are not like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates. Forest wanted to describe life, so he chose an object close at hand and used it. The object he chose was not created to be a symbol for life, but it was able to be used as such with some imagination. Biblical symbols, however, are specifically created to represent something else that already exists.
An example is marriage. When God wanted to describe the relationship between Christ and the Church, He did not say, “The relationship between Christ and the Church is like marriage,” in a ‘Forest Gump box of chocolates’ kind of way. No, God created marriage because the concept of the relationship between Christ and the Church already existed, and marriage is an image of that pre-existing reality. This is the first reason why Christians oppose gay marriage. Jesus isn’t marrying another Jesus, therefore men don’t marry men — the created symbol has to follow what it’s imaging of the Creator.
When a man is opposed to the idea of a woman being a pastor, it is not because he is a male chauvinist. Rather, it is because he believes that gender matters. Gender is symbolic; not in a ‘box of chocolates’ kind of way, but in a ‘something pre-exists about God and this is an image of that’ kind of way. A man standing before his congregation is a symbol of Christ standing before His bride. A man protecting his church is a symbol of Christ protecting His wife. A woman can not do that; not because she isn’t smart enough, or talented enough, but because she doesn’t fit the symbol. The ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story would quickly lose its appeal if the beauty decided to switch roles with the beast — the symbols wouldn’t match.
Bread and wine exist because they image pre-existing things about God. Baptism, circumcision, the temple, birds, trees, clouds, stars, and even people themselves are symbols following after something which was real before any of them ever existed. Biblical symbols are directly connected to that which they image. Gump’s box of chocolates is not.
Symbols matter. They are not interchangeable. God sets them in place, and we benefit when we follow them and use them as He intended.