Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sanctification, a strange dream, and the human condition

I posted some thoughts inspired by Isaiah 57:14-21 here, and then developed those thoughts a little more here. Today I'd like to add a few final thoughts.

I mention in the second post that our hearts harbor idols, and that these have a will-o-the-wisp nature, always inviting pursuit but never allowing capture. Idols appeal to the aspirational self, and many seem thoroughly worthy: there is the idol of beauty, the idol of respect, the idol of virtue. And a thousand more. Idols are simply the things we pursue apart from God. I said that Adam and Eve, for example, pursued personal autonomy. Control of their own destiny apart from God and his profoundly good plan for them. That pursuit and its consequences is the story of humanity.

It has often been said that the human heart is an idol factory, and by my definition that makes the human heart a frustration factory, because idols can never satisfy. When I first encountered God in a powerful way, it was as I came to the deeply frustrating dead-end of my own personal idol-chase. It was by grace that God brought me to the point of despair, because if I hadn't despaired, I'd still by chasing that elusive and misleading dream of autonomy, which leads in the end . . . I cannot say this any other way . . . straight to hell.

Another point I made in the second post, just to make sure we all understand it, is that Christians chase idols too. We do not give up on idols forever once we come to Christ. Our hearts are unwholesome. They'll never be truly undivided, this side of the Kingdom. Not even undividedly devoted to the Lord, though we might wish to give others that impression (some idols, you see, can have a very Christian veneer). The apostle Paul knew this was true about himself, and said so, so that we should not consider ourselves superior in holiness (more whole) than him.

Perhaps what sanctification really entails is a greater readiness to mistrust our hearts, recognize when we've been pursuing idols, and turn back to the One. Perhaps, by the grace of God, we are progressively less prone to chase them all the way to the point of despair. We know sooner (I hope this is so) when we've made the wrong turn, taken the wrong rode, and are sooner willing to turn back, long before reaching that bitter end.

Which brings me to my dream. I described the dream in the last post, but allow me to repeat myself:
I was walking around with a partial haircut. One half my head shaved, the other half hairy. I needed to go to a wedding, I think, so I needed to shave the rest of my head, but I couldn't find a razor, and then I did have a razor, but trying to shave with it was fruitless. It was like one of those running-in-place dreams. I just wasn't getting anywhere, and it was very frustrating.
I'm not sure that every dream we have is deeply symbolic, but I think this one was. Here's my "interpretation."

Note first: I'm needing to go to a wedding. There are many things I might say about this, but the Kingdom of God is often likened to a wedding feast in the Scriptures [see, for example, Matthew 22:1-24, and of course Rev. 19:7].

Now, to go to this wedding I need to shave my head. I believe a shaved head is a symbol of penitence. Remember Isaiah 57, the passage that started this whole conversation, where the backsliding heart comes to the point of contrition. Nothing can make our wayward heart sremorseful other than a view of God's nature, his glory and grace and persistent love for his rebel children. And it is the contrite heart that receives comfort from God.

This kind of remorse, then, is a very positive, a very needed thing. The trouble with us is, as I've said, we have divided hearts. Well, the trouble with me! I half-ray contrite, half-way still pursuing alternate goals. I want God and my idol--both/and--but God won't have us that way. And I know this intellectually, but so what! A contrite heart is not a theological concept, it is instead the deep recognition of the nature of ourselves, the lives we've been leading, and the nature of God.

So in my dream I'm half-way there, I'm divided. I'm half-penitent, and so not able to attend the wedding. I need wholeness, I need to shave the whole head, and so I'm looking for a razor with which to shave the rest of my head and thus be able to go to the feast. And I can't find one . . . and then when I do, it doesn't work. The overall feeling pervading this dream is desperate frustration.

I take it as a warning. A grace-filled warning. You can go the way you're going, son, but it will not prepare you for the wedding feast I have in store.

It is the grace of God toward his children to open our hearts to the good news that the lives we've been leading, the path we've been walking, leads nowhere . . . so that we won't keep walking it. See Ezekiel 33:11, for example. God sees our lives in the context of eternal things, and the destiny he has planned for us. He would give us great gifts, if we would only turn to him. [See Trevin's recent post for more on this point).

The story from Adam and Eve's eviction from the Garden to the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 is this story, this pursuit of a half-hearted people by a whole-hearted God. That's the macro-contect of your life and mind. If we were so whole-hearted (as a thousand contemporary worship songs claim), we wouldn't ever need to repent, and God wouldn't have to chase us down.

So, bottom line, I have to thank God for long nights and disturbing dreams. What you find in the Scriptures is that God is serious about this:
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
(Revelation 3:2 ESV)


Anonymous said...

this is a good post.



S. Etole said...

"I take it as a warning. A grace-filled warning. You can go the way you're going, son, but it will not prepare you for the wedding feast I have in store."

This just stops me in my tracks ... thank you.