By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
Lotuses (also known as water lilies) are inspiring symbols. In popular culture, lotus flowers often represent the good health that comes from pursuing wellness and well-being. Lotuses symbolize powerful faith concepts, as well. Let’s explore the lotus flower meaning in Christianity, and what it can show us about God’s wonder.
What Is the Lotus Flower Meaning in Christianity?
The lotus flower, which is a prominent symbol of spiritual renewal in Hinduism and Buddhism, also symbolizes spiritual renewal in Christianity.
Lotuses grow in water that is filled with dirt and mud. Not only do lotuses grow in dirty water, but they also can clean toxins out of the water around them. They emerge on the water’s surface to bloom with beautiful purity. That brings to mind how we all have to deal with the dirt of sin in this fallen world. When we want to grow spiritually in our environment that has been corrupted by sin, we can start relationships with Jesus. We can rely on Jesus to cleanse us from sin, help us grow in holiness, and empower us to thrive in beautiful ways. Just like lotus flowers, we can show others the beauty of positive change that happens when we’re rooted in relationships with Jesus. Lotuses represent the spiritual renewal made possible by the Resurrection. Lotus flowers usually take three days to rise through water to reach the surface – the same amount of time between Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection. Lotus flower close their petals at night as if they were in graves, and then reopen them when daytime sunlight arrives as if they were resurrected. Also, lotus seeds can live for thousands of years, and even after lying in stasis for a long time, the seeds can activate and grow once they’re planted.
Where Does This Meaning Come From?
The symbolic meaning of lotus flowers in Christianity comes mostly from Christian traditions, rather than strictly from the Bible. However, the Bible does mention lotuses.
Two references to the lotus flower appear in the Bible. Both references are from a single passage in the book of Job, where God describes Behemoth, a powerful beast that rests under lotuses. God says in Job 40:21-22: “Under the lotus plants it lies, hidden among the reeds in the marsh. The lotuses conceal it in their shadow; the poplars by the stream surround it.” While at first this passage doesn’t seem to have much symbolic meaning, in the context of the Bible’s entire message of redemption, it does. Behemoth symbolizes how sin can act like a monster that is hidden in our hearts. Even while sin is concealed, it still remains a powerful and dangerous threat to us and others. As lotus flowers show off pure and lovely blossoms yet stand in murky water, we can appear to others to be fine if they don’t see the sin in our lives. The reality, though, is that we need God’s help to deal with the beast of sin and truly grow in holiness.
Christians in Asia (where lotus flowers grow the most) traditionally started using lotus flowers to communicate spiritual meaning because of distinctive lotus characteristics that reminded them of Jesus’ redemptive work. When they appreciated the beauty of how lotuses emerge from dirty water with pure blossoms, they thought of the Gospel message of ultimate spiritual renewal. In India, where the lotus is the national flower, Christians display lotuses in their churches. A display called the Cross of Saint Thomas, which features a cross on top of a lotus, is popular in Indian churches. It is named in honor of Jesus’ apostle Thomas, who shared the Gospel message with people in Asia. In China, the Nestorian Cross displays a simple cross resting on top of a lotus flower.
All flowers point us to God, because they help our minds blossom with an awareness of God’s beauty and inspire us to feel awe. The nature chapter of my book Wake Up to Wonder includes a section on how to encounter God’s wonder through flowers. Flowers showcase God’s lovely mix of orderly intelligence with fun, playful ideas. Flowers also direct our attention to God’s loving care for creation. We can experience awe when we ponder how God is the ultimate gardener. Genesis 2:7 reveals that God formed the first human being out of soil – the same environment that nourishes flowers – and loves to see us grow and blossom. Luke 12:27-28 describes God’s care for both people and flowers: “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith!” Jesus empowers us to blossom like flowers when we’re connected to him in close relationships. He compares himself to a flowering plant (a vine) in John 15:1 (“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.”) and he compares people to branches of that flowering vine in John 15:5 (“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”). Flowers also play a vital part in the Bible’s story of redemption. Before humanity’s fall, people enjoyed God’s presence with them in the Garden of Eden. After the fall and Jesus’ sacrificial death to redeem the world, Jesus was resurrected from a tomb in a garden.
So, lotus flowers and other types of flowers can inspire us with awe by directing our attention to God and his wondrous work in creation. Romans 1:20 points out: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – this eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Lotus flowers in particular speak to our souls about the importance of spiritual renewal, which God makes possible for us.
What Are Some Other Symbols in Christianity?
Just like the lotus flower, other Christian symbols use parts of the natural world to communicate spiritual lessons. Examples include a dove (which represents the Holy Spirit and peace), a rainbow (which symbolizes God’s faithfulness and grace), and a fish (which brings to mind Jesus’ call to share the Gospel message). Still, other Christian symbols are made by humans, such as the best-known symbol of Christianity – the cross – which focuses on Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity during his Crucifixion. Using symbols, Christians can communicate profound spiritual truths in simple ways that focus people’s attention on them. Jesus himself used symbolism to help people understand deep spiritual concepts. From biblical times until now, Christians have communicated about their faith through symbols – including the importance of spiritual renewal, which the lotus flower represents.
Pondering the lotus flower meaning in Christianity can help us discover more about God’s wonderful redemptive work in the world. As we enjoy lotus flowers, we can let them inspire us to seek spiritual renewal by staying connected to our true vine: Jesus.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/R_Type
Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter.