Cracking the Da Vinci Code

Cracking the Bible Code: Sensational Spirituality
by Jonathan Wilson

It is a dangerous game to take God's word out of context.

The claims of the Bible Code are truly sensational. In this they share a spirit with the esoteric grail quest made popular by Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code." The claims that the Hebrew scriptures can be decoded to predict the end of the world are as sensational as are the claims that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers.

By "sensational" is meant that it appeals to the senses. Within our bodies we experience excitement or shock, enthusiasm or dread. The adulterous trysts of a married movie star faithfully reported by a gossip magazine are "sensational," especially if accompanied by grainy paparazzi photographs. An evangelistic faith-healer who expels the demons of migraine head-aches in the name of Jayee-SUZ is sensational. The slow-motion replay of an injury to a football player is sensational. A woman emerging topless from the bathroom on a "reality" television series is sensational.

In these sensations we might be appalled, thrilled, or amused. Presidential elections in the United States are sensational events, as candidates play to our fears and suspicions. (If you elect him the nation will become weak and plagued by terrorism. But if you elect the OTHER guy there will be no money left to pay school teachers or take care of your mother's prescription needs.)

I have pointed out that a novel like the "Da Vinci Code" has visceral appeal to millions of nominal Catholics embittered with religion who find it easy to believe that "the Vatican" has been pulling the strings and hiding the truth for centuries. Now I want to point out that among Bible-believing evangelicals, the Bible Code has similar visceral appeal. The claims are both sensational AND fit comfortably within the world-view--the Bible IS the word of God, God is infinitely complex, ergo it follows that the Bible Code is plausible.

The caution is to remember that the appeal of the Bible Code is to the flesh. The sensational claims make the Bible more exciting and more dreadful. To know these claims is to obtain a certain satisfaction, a certain leverage or power that comes from having obtained knowledge that is not yet public. The Bible Code is not instructive about the way to live within God's will.

Watching the documentary on the HISTORY channel, my wife pointed out, "It reminds me of what Jesus said, about how we watch the sky and can predict the weather, but we do not even try to interpret the significance of who Jesus is." She was referring to Matthew 16:1-4. I have in mind another statement, this one by the Apostle Paul, who said in Second Corinthians 3:6, "the letter kills, but the spirit gives life."

Taking the words of the Bible out of their context in order to preach sensationalized messages that appeal to selfish human natures has been done for centuries. Everything from the justice of chattel slavery in the American South, to anti-Semitism throughout the world, to today's "health and wealth" gospel, have used out-of-context Biblical passages for justification. Such methods have been rightly and soundly criticized. Indeed, when it comes to the Bible, the "letter can kill."

However, finding secret messages by lifting letters out of the words in which they are found, divorces those letters from their context. It is not sentences that are now divorced from their context - mystical power is conferred on the letters themselves, which can then be ripped out of place and arranged to form new messages. There is no Biblical context for a matrix that would unveil the words "Depression," "Stocks" and "Market Crash," none of which are concepts with Biblical referents, yet this was reported in the HISTORY Channel documentary as support for the existence of a Bible Code. "Depression" as used is a capitalistic euphamism that would make little sense indeed to the world of the First Temple. The Bible Code method plays the dangerous game of ripping the Bible out of its context for sensational purposes.

It is the plain arrangement of those letters in the context of words and sentences that make the Bible the word of God for our faith and life. This moves us beyond the visceral and the sensational to a meaningful life in the will of God. The plain meaning of the Bible brings us beyond the End of Days to the other side, to find the One God who waits for us.
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