The Primer

Jodie Foster, Contact, 1997
I find it deeply ironic that some of my favorite metaphors for how we relate to God come from people who don’t believe in God.

One of those comes from Contact, a movie based on the book by Carl Sagan, a noted and outspoken agnostic.

In this movie, Jodie Foster plays Eleanor Arroway, a scientist working on SETI, or Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. She finds a signal that clearly originates from an alien intelligence, but they can’t decipher the information embedded in it.

With the help of another character, however, she unlocks the mystery:

Hadden – Pages and pages of data. Over 63,000 in all. And on the perimeter of each…

Ellie – Alignment symbols, a registration mark, but they don’t line up.

Hadden – They do…if you think like a Vegan. An alien intelligence has got be more advanced…and that means efficiency functioning on multiple levels…and in multiple dimensions.

[pages fold into three dimensional cube aligning the registration marks]

Ellie – Yes, of course! Where’s the primer?

Hadden – You’ll see. Every three-dimensional page contains a piece of the primer. There it was all the time, staring you in the face. Buried within the message itself is the key to decoding it.

To me, this is how we must read the Bible.

We have to look for the primer. A primer is an elementary textbook that serves as an introduction to a subject of study.

It contains the basic building blocks of knowledge that become the key to understanding a much more complicated subject.

Without the primer, there is little hope of grasping the bigger picture.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the primer in Contact is its nature.

Why not simply broadcast the primer separately, as a precursor to the message itself?

Why bury the key? Why intentionally obfuscate your message?

Perhaps there’s a deeper truth here, a truth beyond simply decoding a message.

I believe this concept speaks to who we are and how we process information.

I believe we were born with an innate knowledge, a sense that something is missing.

Our brain is a pattern recognition machine.

This video is an excellent picture of that fact:

We can sense those patterns. They are written on our hearts.

The fact that there is a primer embedded in the message says something, not only about the message, but about us.

It is a gateway, a door through which we must enter if we’re to understand.

Jesus said that He was the primer.

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.

John 14:6-7

Many people met Jesus and failed to recognize Him as the primer.

Jesus said it was their nature that prevented them from seeing Him for what He truly was.

Why don’t you understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot accept my teaching. You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I am telling you the truth, you do not believe me.

John 8:43-45

 This is still true today.

The children of the Message that God has sent us, sharing the primer in the person of Jesus, should not be surprised when the children of the world reject Him.

They’ve been taught to look at the message a certain way, and they’ve either misinterpreted it, or dismissed it as meaningless noise.

Only the few who, as Jesus said, have ears to hear, who are willing to look at the message in a new way, and within that message, make out the primer that unlocks the rest, will truly accept what we have to offer.

Next week, I’ll explore more of the primer. But for now, may we meditate on what it means to have been created in such a way as to discover the hidden meaning within God’s message to us.

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