John 3:16 am
Image from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind“.
The other morning, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, as I often do, probably roused by my own snoring, the snoring of my partner, the snoring of one of my cats, or from a rabble outside my house. The time read 3:16 am.
Even though my eyes were blurry and my brain was barely functioning, a thought struck me. Were I A superstitious person, and particularly a Christian superstitious person, I would immediately see this as a sign. A sign that God was talking to me. A sign that God loves me and that Jesus is my saviour. 3:16, were I inclined to think religiously would obviously refer to the biblical passage John 3:16 which reads:
This passage is often used as the penultimate example of the efficacy for biblical claims. I see the number “3:16″ on religious placards at American sporting events and at religious protests. 3:16 is, for some inexplicable reason, seen as a “CHECKMATE ATHEISTS” moment by many theists, and irrefutable proof that Jesus loves us. Of course, I know it is just a number. In this case, 3:16 means 16 minutes past 3 am, a time stamp that humans have arbitrarily assigned to that part of the day in my particular region, and all it signifies is that I should go back to sleep and get the 3 more hours sleep I want before having to get up for work.
Were I even more superstitious, I might see it as a conglomerate of other biblical passages with the numbers 3:16, for instance Ecclesiastes 3:16, which has much more sinister content:
Could this be a sign about the upcoming election? Could it be that someone was going to rip me off in a moment of need? Was it a sign of the impending apocalypse?
Would I have even had this inner conversation if the time when i awoke was 3:33? Or would I be more concerned that I was being abducted by aliens, like in the alien abduction stories of Whitley Streiber in the book Communion?(Streiber’s “real life account” had a strange fascination with this time in the morning, apparently because this is when abductions happen.) Or I might be looking up bible passages with the numbering 3:33, such as Numbers 3:33:
But what the hell does that even mean? What are you trying to tell me Lord?
John 3:16 means little to me in reality. The fact that I awoke at 3:16 is as random as me waking up at 4:19pm after a nap, and the only reason I even stopped to think about it was the fact that some people, people looking for signs and gifts from above might read something into the situation that simply is not there.
As pattern-seeking animals we often ascribe meaning to things that are devoid of meaning as such. What does a rock mean? I know what it is, where it came from, but what does it mean? What if the rock looked vaguely like a bust of a bearded man? What would that mean? To a believer, they might say that, much like waking at 3:16, it was a sign from above. But a rock has no meaning other than the meaning we ascribe to it. And 3:16 am is just that, an arbitrary allocation of time units, and also way too early to be thinking about things like this.