The Ram, the Lion and the Lamb

Merry Christmas - animated bannerThis is our first Christmas in Ghana. I am celebrating by adding something uniquely Ghanaian.

Ghana has a rich history, culture and beliefs. Long before explorers and missionaries arrived, the Akan people of Ghana developed a rich set of symbols to explain their beliefs. One of them is this stylized representation of rams horns, called “Dwennimmen

Dwennimmen - Rams horns

Akan symbol Dwennimmen, representing rams' horns

A ram will fight fiercely with a predator or another ram. So it is associated with strength, which is why the ram’s horns are found on Dodge Ram trucks. But it also submits quietly to slaughter. In the Dwennimmen symbol, the Akan people captured these opposite qualities of the ram: meekness and strength. It was a reminder to those who are strong to exercise their strength in humility.

At Christmas, we celebrate the all-powerful God coming down and being born as a baby. He was born with animals into a family of modest means. Talk about being meek and being strong!

When Jesus was accused by Pilot, he did not try to defend himself, just like the prediction about Jesus in Isaiah:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)

Again, great strength exercised in great meekness, just like the Akan symbol Dwennimmen.

Another animal used to symbolize Jesus is the Lion. He is called “the lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). The lion, of course, represents strength and courage The praise chorus “How Great Is Our God“, celebrates the unexpected juxtaposition with the words

Christmas animation - mixedThe Godhead three in one
Father, Spirit, Son
Lion and the Lamb
Lion and the Lamb

When Jesus said that his kingdom is not “of this world”, his meek approach to power must be one of the things he meant. Through simple grassroots action, such as Bible translation, that kingdom is expanding around the world. There is a power in the Gospel even when to this world it seems timid or meek, just as it did the first Christmas.

People associate all kinds of symbols with Christmas: snow, sleighs, Santa, reindeer, trees, wreaths, stars, angels, wise men, shepherds, a stable, a manger, even tin soldiers and more. This Christmas I am adding a Ghanaian symbol to my repertoire – ” Dwennimmen” or rams’ horns.

May you have a blessed Christmas.

Manger banner

Before missionaries — there was God

Did you know that the people of Ghana knew a lot about God before the missionaries came?

Gye Nyame - None other than the Lord

Akan symbol for the omnipotence and omnipresence of God

When the first missionaries arrived they found this symbol everywhere, and it still is found all over Ghana . It stands for the Akan language words “Gye Nyame” often translated “Except God”. I prefer the translation “None other than the Lord”. It echoes the most fundamental things the Bible says about God:
• He always was and always will be
• He is all powerful
• He is everywhere
• Everything comes from and depends on Him.

Gye Nyame sign

Gye Nyame (None but God) street sign in Accra

Akan symbol for the death of God

Akan symbol for the death of God

This next symbol is about the power of God to overcome death. It come from the Akan belief that God created life and death, but death killed him. However, he came back to life and now he lives forever.

This set of beliefs has too many parallels to the death and resurrection of Jesus to mention in a blog like this. Given that the Apostle Paul developed a whole theme from an idol to an unknown God in Acts 17, I have to wonder what he would have developed from this symbol if he had come to Ghana.

Akan symbol of the banch for the grace of God

Akan symbol for the grace of God

This branch stands for the Akan words “Nyame Nti”, meaning “by God’s grace”. From their belief that “Except (for) God” (first symbol) there is nothing and the obvious observation that man will die without food, the Akan people deduced that they could not survive without the food that God put on the Earth. From that, they further deduced that we humans live by God’s provision and so by his unmerited favor, or grace. In this, they are a lot more like the first settlers to celebrate Thanksgiving than a lot of Americans today, who are thankful, but may not attribute their bounty to God’s doing.

God was working here in Ghana long before missionaries came. After spending 30 years as a missionary in Africa, Dr. H. Junod stated: “Wherever I went, I found that my Master had been there before me.” He was referring to these symbols among other things. God prepared the way for missionaries by revealing himself. This is not a new idea. The Apostle Paul develops it in the book of Romans:

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” (Romans 1:20 The Message)

A modern-day missionary, Don Richardson has developed this idea further in his book “The Peace Child” from which a movie was made.

The image projected of Africa as “the dark continent” is way off the mark. God was at work here and he still is. Africans are responding to that in record numbers, finding in Christian faith the fulfillment of the thoughts God put in their ancestors. I’m thankful to be here and see it firsthand.


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