Apophenia - Finding Meaning That Isn't There

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I had never met someone who believed in Bible Codes. But here was a speaker at a Christian event whose testimony revolved entirely around the idea. After reading the book, he committed his life to Christ.

'Crazy,' was my first thought.

Aside from the plain fact that hidden messages require input from our minds to work (making them only good in retrospect; meaning this would be eisegesis), I dislike finding "hidden meanings" in text -- or movies, for that matter. In my deplorable high school English class, we read several books and poems I found decent until the teacher started "teaching" us about them. She would go into all kinds of minute details. She would urge us to notice how the green light indicated the main character was envious. She would try to demonstrate that the author really meant something the text did not say. She read into everything, and it drove me crazy. I'm not the only one. There's a meme involving literature and blue curtains (but it has the f-bomb, so I'm not linking). Literature is not well-loved when it is killed so it can be dissected.

Barb made precisely this point in her blog post How to Take the Joy from Literature.

For the sake of argument, I postulate that there is a difference between uncovering depth and finding hidden meaning. It may well be true that F. Scott Fitzgerald did intend to link greed with the green light in Gatsby. Then again, perhaps he was linking it to other things (like the American Dream). Good writers do, indeed, include depth in their literature. But the process should be one of uncovering as you gain understanding of context and culture.

This is how I prefer to approach Scripture. I read and I try to learn what I can about the context from which the words were written. There is a richness to be studied, depth to be discovered, but let us be wary of finding hidden messages.

Hidden Message?

Apophenia seems to be a coined term rather than a well-accepted word. In general, apophenia is seeing patterns or meaning where there isn't one.

As you read to your children, please share with them culture and context that brings out the richness of the literature we read as part of Sonlight. But, for the joy of blue curtains, don't read into stuff. This is, yet again, another example of education instead of indoctrination. The more we learn, the more we see in the wonderful books we read. We don't need to be told what it is we're seeing.

The good news is that even if you do impart some wonky ideas to your kids, God can use it. His redemption can use even something like Bible Codes to transform a life. And if God can use that, He can use you and me.

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Guardian

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