Wonders in the heavens and signs on the earth

The eclipse on April 8th, 2024, has my social media feeds abuzz with all kinds of end-time speculation and projected significance beyond the actual wonder of the moon coming between the Earth and the Sun. These events, and the mania that surrounds them, should remind us that there is no end to people’s insistence on wanting to read significance into ordinary existence.

For example, in the early 2000s, a woman named Diana Duyser claimed that her grilled cheese sandwich bore the image of the Virgin Mary and sold it for a whopping $28,000 on eBay. Meanwhile, in another part of the world, Linda Lowe discovered a similar divine likeness on a slice of cheese toast made by her boyfriend. The image, resembling Jesus, appeared in the bubbled and burned cheese, prompting Lowe to preserve it rather than consume it. Like Duyser, Lowe found herself contemplating the spiritual implications of the image, unsure of its significance but deeply moved by its presence.

Both women experienced skepticism and wonder from those around them, with debates arising among friends and church communities about the nature of these miraculous images. While some dismissed them as mere coincidences, others saw them as powerful reminders of faith.

Duyser’s intention to use the proceeds from the sandwich’s sale for charity echoed Lowe’s decision to hold onto her cheese toast, unsure of its message but unwilling to discard it. Both women found themselves grappling with questions of belief and the mysterious ways faith manifests itself. Likewise, the April 8th eclipse is another opportunity for people to point to extra-biblical proof of their faith. No matter how far-fetched it may be.

Throughout history, people have claimed to see images of Jesus Christ in various patterns, ranging from food items to natural phenomena. This phenomenon, known as pareidolia, occurs when the brain interprets random stimuli as familiar patterns, such as faces. The perception of Jesus in these patterns often carries deep religious significance for believers, leading to awe, reverence, skepticism, and controversy.

The concept of seeing religious figures in everyday objects is not a new phenomenon. In the early Christian era, believers interpreted natural occurrences as divine signs or messages from God. Over time, this interpretation expanded to include sightings of Jesus in mundane objects, reinforcing faith and providing a sense of spiritual connection.

With the advent of mass media and the internet, instances of pareidolia featuring Jesus have gained widespread attention. Images of Jesus purportedly appearing in food items, tree bark, or cloud formations often go viral, sparking fascination and debate among believers and skeptics alike. The prevalence of social media platforms has facilitated the rapid dissemination of such sightings, amplifying their impact on popular culture. These beliefs often extend to reports citing churches that survive the devastation of tornadoes or unsinged Bibles emerging from fires.

For some devout Christians, encountering what they believe to be an image of Jesus, or one of these other manifested signs holds profound spiritual significance. These sightings are often interpreted as signs of divine presence or messages from God, reaffirming faith and providing comfort in times of uncertainty. The perceived images and unverified miracles reinforce the belief in God’s omnipresence and serve as a reminder of his enduring influence in the world. But is this truly a miraculous confirmation of faith, or is something much more mundane at work?

Psychology suggests that this is a holdover of evolutionary necessity. Pareidolia is the brain’s tendency to seek familiarity and meaning in ambiguous stimuli. Humans are hardwired to recognize faces, even in abstract patterns, as a survival mechanism. This innate propensity, coupled with cultural and religious conditioning, predisposes individuals to interpret random stimuli as representations of familiar figures, such as Jesus, or to interpret natural or random events as spiritually significant. It is no wonder that if people want to believe, they will find evidence of their beliefs, including in the often-crass business of politics.

If people can see Jesus in food, it might be unsurprising that many people see Jesus in Donald Trump. It may be that Donald Trump sees Jesus in himself, prompting him to share a peculiar fan-made video on Truth Social, suggesting a divine appointment for his leadership role. The video opens with the assertion that on June 14, 1946, God chose Trump as the caretaker of his intended paradise.

Portraying Trump as a messianic figure, the narrator emphasizes his supposed mission to combat Marxism and confront what he sees as biased media. Despite Trump never overtly expressing strong personal faith, a sizable portion of his evangelical Christian supporters view him as God’s chosen leader.

The video further lauds Trump’s perceived attributes, including the strength to challenge the so-called “Deep State” while also displaying tenderness. Additionally, the video depicts Trump as a relentless worker, even claiming he regularly attended church services, though the evidence contradicts this assertion. It seems that many in the evangelical community have gone from holding their noses to vote for Trump, to outright worship Trump as a Jesus figure sent to save the nation. These elevations of Donald Trump, like the sightings of Jesus in patterns, may strengthen the faith of believers, but they also fuel skepticism and criticism from non-believers. Skeptics attribute such occurrences to coincidence, psychological phenomena, or deliberate manipulation for attention or profit. Or in the case of the evangelical embrace of Trump, perhaps all the above. Ultimately, it hinders the testimony of Christians in an increasingly skeptical world.

The human propensity to perceive patterns, including images of Jesus, in random stimuli reflects a complex interplay of psychology, culture, and religious belief. The desire to see an eclipse as more than a naturally occurring wonder or the inexplicable support of Donald Trump by evangelicals demonstrates our collective flawed faith that demands validation by the worldly standards of power, privilege, and status. A validation that Jesus never sought or embraced.

As we stand in awe of the eclipse, wonder at creation, or scratch our heads in disdain over those who see a righteous champion in Donald Trump, we should remind ourselves of the “more sure word of prophecy” we have received. Words like Psalm 19:1 “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” and Proverbs 29:2 “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked rule, the people mourn.”

The lesson is simple and profound: a nation lacking discernment in choosing its leadership will miss almost every truth. Even those vividly displayed in the skies.


Photo by Justin Dickey on Unsplash

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