Work at overcoming Scripture semantic satiation
A couple of days ago I was with some friends and as we were talking, something strange came up. We started confessing our deepest, darkest sins (not really) of how we have misspelled simple words even though we are grown adults. I won’t repeat all of them, but one person confessed to writing “five” as “fife.” It had us laughing, but we then remembered that this is an actual thing that happens in your brain called wordnesia.
Wordnesia happens when you are spelling a word and it feels like there should be another “o” or another “e” in the word, but there isn’t.
Another thing that can happen with our brains when we look at words is called semantic satiation. This is where you look at or say a word so much that you start to forget what it means. You keep reading it over and over, or say it out loud over and over, to the point where you forget the meaning or that it doesn’t even feel like an actual word anymore!
While I can’t explain why these things happen in our minds, I do think that these kinds of things can happen for us as Christians with the Bible. Whether you have read it for one day or 50 years, if we are not careful, we can sometimes read it to the point where we forget what it is – the very Word of God. Not only that, we can stare at it long enough to forget that it means something and that we should believe and obey it.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s word is living and active. King David, in Psalm 119:103, said that God’s word is sweeter than honey to him. And he was talking about the Old Testament; he didn’t even have the New Testament!
I remember when this kind of Scripture semantic satiation (how I’m defining it) happened to me while I was in college. I had just spent a significant amount of time reading God’s word, and I went up to put my Bible away and didn’t even remember a word I had just read! Of course I remembered the books of the Bible and chapters I was in, but what it actually said, what it was commanding, what it had promised me and declared about God … I had no idea.
How could this happen? Did I not love God enough? Did God not love me?
Neither of those things was true, but I realized how familiar it had become to me. I needed to get out of my Scripture semantic satiation.
Reading the Bible is good. Don’t get me wrong! There has even been a small amount of growth in reading the Bible in America. In a recent study done by Barna (a research group) that researched the state of the Bible among Christians in 2021, it shows that there was an increase of reading the Bible from 2018.
While the numbers are not mind blowing, it is encouraging to know that Christians are growing in reading their Bible on a more regular basis.
But even with an increase in Bible reading, how do we know that Scripture semantic satiation is going on? How do we know that, even with 12 churches in Luverne and many people hearing God’s word and reading God’s word, that we are actually understanding it? That we are not just looking it over and over and over and yet forgetting the actual meaning and purpose of the Word?
Please don’t hear this in a condemning voice or a shameful reprimand but as a genuine question and hopefully an encouragement to reflect on something very important for those of us who are following Jesus. If we have read simple commands like, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44) and “Be imitators of God, as beloved children,” (Ephesians 5:1) yet don’t ever put them into practice, what good is it in knowing them?
I believe there are a couple things that we can do to get out of Scripture semantic satiation if we are finding ourselves there today.