Page last updated

 

 

Dreams of God

DGBradley

In my life, I have met only a few celebrities, and I doubt if any of them would remember meeting me, but I remember meeting them. One place where I met famous people was when I was a seminary student and worked in the seminary library. The seminary is the graduate school of religion for Northwestern University and has a fine religious and theological library. After a time of working at the library, I was accustomed to meeting bishops, theologians, and religious scholars coming in to seek research materials. I was not prepared for the hubbub I heard outside the library one day, nor was I prepared when the library doors opened to admit a retinue of businesslike persons surrounding a person whose face I immediately recognized. The crowd parted as he approached the circulation desk. He stopped and looked at me. I looked at him, and decided that one of us should speak. "Senator McGovern?" "Yes," he replied. "Sir, can I help you?"

Senator McGovern wanted to see the head librarian, and I went to inform the librarian. I later learned that Senator McGovern had once been a student at the seminary, but drawn between the call to serve God in ministry or through politics had withdrawn from seminary to enter law school. He dropped in on the seminary occasionally because of his continued interest in historical Bibles. That was a dramatic and visible celebrity encounter. I have had others, but usually not so vivid. I do remember another celebrity encounter at the seminary library circulation desk. A man about my age, thirty-something at the time, well-dressed, checked out some books for research. I did not know him and asked his name. He told me and said his name would be listed as a past student and current Ph.D. candidate from another graduate seminary. After he left, I asked the circulation librarian, "Is that the Robert Short?" I was told it was.

I realize that Robert Short is a minor celebrity and unfamiliar to many people, but he is the author of a famous book in the early 1960's: The Gospel according to Peanuts, which analyzed the theological under structure of Charlie Brown and his friends. It was a famous book in its time, and is still available. I met Robert Short ten years later at a lecture on the theology in newspaper comics, and he was amused by my thirty-year-old version of his books on Peanut theology. He pointed to his picture on the back cover as proof that he had once had more hair and darker. Thanks to Robert Short, whom I have met even if he does not recall this fact, it is respectable for ministers to quote newspaper comic strips, especially Peanuts, which I intend to do.

One Peanuts I remember shows Lucy talking, or lecturing, to Charlie Brown while Snoopy watches and listens. Lucy tells Charlie Brown, "You sow what you reap and you reap what you sow. That is the way it is!" They walk away and Snoopy thinks, "I'd like to see a little more room for error." We understand what Snoopy means. We would like a little grace in life, a little more room for error so that our errors and sins and shortcomings do not absolutely determine our destiny. On the other hand, we would also like justice.

Mark Twain, a great satirist of religion, especially of American Christianity, wrote that what bothered him about the Bible was not what he did not understand but what he did understand. He liked to point out that the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament, has many persons whom he did not consider to be good moral examples. I would think that Jacob, the central character of today's Old Testament scripture from the book of Genesis, would be one example of a poor moral example.

Jacob, whose very name means "trickster" or "cheat," seems a poor specimen of morality compared to his brother Esau. Jacob likes to stay home with his mother who dotes on this smooth-skinned and smooth-talking son. He would well-deserve the nickname "Slick."

He offered a bowl of soup to his brother in exchange for his brother's birthright. His brother may have considered that a joke, but Jacob thought he had made a slick deal. His mother helped him deceive his blind father, disguising him with a hairy hide on his arms and disguising goat stew to taste like rabbit, so Jacob could receive Esau's blessing. Now Jacob, fleeing for his life from his brother's wrath, beds down for the night, alone and afraid. He puts a stone at his head for protection and sleeps.

While he sleeps, he dreams of a ladder, probably a divided staircase such as one would find at a community well that would lead down to the water, divided by a wall for those descending and ascending. Jacob dreamed that the angels of God ascended and descended. He dreamed the Lord was beside him and promised the covenant of Abraham would continue through him, not Esau, that God would not leave him, and all the families of the earth would be blessed through Jacob. When Jacob awoke, he said that the Lord was in this place and he did not know it. He was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." There are at least two important points about this story.

Jacob, the cheat and swindler, is chosen by God over Esau. Why did God make such a choice that offends our sense of moral justice? The second point is that Jacob experienced God in an unusual revelation in a dream. This may sound atypical, but Andrew Greely, Roman Catholic priest, sociologist, and author of religious fiction, found that dreams, visions, "witness of the Spirit," and other unusual experiences of God are not uncommon among believers, although many people seldom speak of these experiences to others even as they attest to the reality of such revelations from God which do change lives, which do happen, even to those, as with Jacob, who are not seeking God, but are sought by God. There is reality in dreams of God that can and does change how we understand the relationship between God and us.

God promised Jacob the continuance of the covenant and the presence of God in the life of Jacob, which may be a threat and also assurance, especially to one who tries to hold God to conditions and deals. Would anyone so self-centered, so unconcerned with God's righteousness, want to have the presence of God in their lives? It is no wonder that Jacob felt fear and awe after experiencing the presence of God. If anything, we would expect God to choose Esau. Why would God bother with one so nasty and evil? "I'd like to see a little more room for error," said Snoopy, and we all agreed, but isn't this a bit much, even for our dreams of God? But do we forget that God also has dreams, and that the dreams of God may be very different from human dreams of God? Who but God would dream of coming to us in human form, as the Son of God, in flesh and vulnerability, to save the world through rejection and death, through resurrection and love, through forgiveness and healing, through the justice of mercy and grace?

Jesus also had dreams of God. He told about how God dreams when he told stories, parables, about how the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, is coming among us, and will come among us. Jesus told about the weeds planted among the wheat by an enemy, and this, apparently was not unheard of. There is a poisonous plant, closely related to wheat, that is difficult to distinguish from good wheat. Try to rip out the wheat, and one runs the risk of ripping out the good through mistake or the closeness of the roots.

Jesus tells us that the strategy of God is not what we would think. God is aware there is evil, which God neither causes nor condones. In God's own time the evil will be separated from the good so that the good might shine like the sun in the kingdom of heaven. In the meanwhile, let the bad grow with the good. It is God who will separate one from the other. It is too bad that we jump from Jesus' parable to Matthew's explanation of the parable for his church, because we skip the part where Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed, how the word of God seems so small but grows so large, how a little good becomes a tremendous good, how the values of the world are overturned by the will of God. I think that Jesus intends for His followers to be active in living the Good News of God's love, but I also think that Jesus gives us hope that God's will will be done on earth as in heaven. I think there might be further meaning in Jesus' parable. It might be much more difficult for us to tell the ultimate destiny of people than we imagine. Can we truly tell the good from the bad? God saw good in Jacob.

Can we see that good? John Wesley and his followers could not deny that it is most improbable that everyone could be saved from the destruction of evil and sin, but they insisted that it is not impossible if God so wills it! It might be that in the kingdom of heaven, in the dreams of God, what is poisonous, what is sinful, what is evil might grow to be wholesome, righteous, good. "I'd like to see a little more room for error," said Snoopy. I should tell you that Robert Short said that, in Peanuts, Snoopy often functions as a "little Christ" figure, offering faith and faithfulness, hope and grace.

It may be that Snoopy's desire for a little more room for error is the dream and purpose of Christ and God, that we may grow so that our goodness might be known and harvested by God. It might be that our purpose in coming into this place, this awesome place, this house of God, this gate of heaven, is to be in the presence of God that we might receive the dreams of God, be changed and transformed, and through Christ Jesus, receive grace, hope, forgiveness which Snoopy called "more room for error." Be assured that God made us that we might grow and flower and bloom through Christ Jesus entering into the kingdom of heaven even now and life eternal now and forever. We have hope. We have Christ. We have dreams of God. Amen and Amen.