Seeing Patterns

Seeing Patterns

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Saturday, March 18, 2023

Firstly, we read the Bible and then we read it some more. Pay attention to the patterns and shapes we find there. These are the patterns and shapes of the way God moves in history. Does God do a new thing (Isaiah 43)? Yes, but in the shape of his purposes, given to us in a book that teaches us to read our lives. Keep reading the Bible. Secondly, we (you’ll never guess it) read the Bible in community. Our friends who are also attentive to the Bible’s patterns and God’s ways help us read events. 

I’m the sort of person who spots patterns and thinks in patterns.

That’s not by itself better or worse than someone who thinks in a different way (or doesn’t have a typology for how they think—which is the hallmark of a pattern-person), it’s just a thing. It has strengths: I can see that these three pieces of information we have coalesce like this and actually connect to these other four things which together gives us… you get the vague idea.

It has weaknesses, not least that for most people if I filled in the gaps above (the connection between the wool industry and expressive individualism, perhaps?) I wouldn’t take most people on the jumps with me. That doesn’t make my hearers dumb, it means I didn’t explain it well.

Or, the bigger weakness, is that when you think in patterns you see patterns including where they aren’t. It’s a problem when you have three pieces of data that fit a compelling narrative that indicates a bad thing, but that bad thing turns out to not be true.

Your pattern spotting was off, you did 2+2=5 without having to be in Room 101. We all do it, we make assumptions that seem reasonable enough based on the data we have, which tends to include all our previous experiences, but in this case that wasn’t the right pattern. It’s a thing everyone has to be aware of, but especially those of us who are particularly prone to pattern thinking.

Hearing from God

One of my tendencies is then to expect God to work in patterns too. Which can sound like crazy behaviour: we’ve all met the person who reads the hand of God into every single instance of their lives in ways that seem over-the-top to the rest of us. Maybe you being late this morning was simply because you got up late rather than all-out assault by the forces of Hell?

And it can be detrimental to us, we see a sequence of events that if only God did this thing next it feels like it would be fitting or redemptive, and we’ve had some vague prophetic words that appear to confirm us in that direction. It’s easy to start to read the pattern as though it were the hand of the Lord when all that’s really happening is we’re overlaying reality with our wish fulfilment.

I’ve been burned that way in the past.

Except, God does work in patterns. It’s hard to read the Bible and think otherwise. We might call it typology—where an older person or office or object or event prefigures or consciously images a later one—but it’s essentially a pattern or shape to the story.

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