Though we can never eliminate our subjectivity in the act of reading–ought not even to try to do so if we would read the Bible as God intends–we can certainly do better than reduce Scripture to a Rorschach ink blot or muse for pious psychedelics to trip on. But this is not just a postmodern problem; we are all inclined to project our own meaning onto the grain of the text.
Humans are amazing pattern finders. We detect patterns everywhere in the world around us: contorted faces in the wood grain, mythical creatures in the clouds, phantom ailments in our aches and pains–there’s no end to the patterns our vibrant and active minds discover in the world around us.
Detecting and Projecting Patterns
The curious thing is that many of those patterns are not really there, not in the things themselves in the same way that the pattern or form (in philosophical jargon) tree is in the massive pine specimen in my front yard or even the way the moonlit sky is in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. This is because the face in the wood grain and griffin in the clouds is a projection of our mind–something we impose on the raw material of reality.
The grain in the wood is certainly there and is given to the mind in all its particularity. That particularity is telling too. A dendrologist can discern not only what kind of tree it came from but how old it was, which way it faced, how many fires or hurricanes it endured, and so on. There is much for science to ponder and sort out in the wood’s grain.