Like most people, I dream about the things that happened to me during the previous day. There was a period when I had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where I had recurring nightmares about the morgue I worked in after the World Trade Center attacks, but that was an exception. Now, after good therapy, I am like most everyone else again—reprocessing the events of the day in dreams sometimes linear and sometimes non-linear.
In that context, one dream last week was very intriguing. It was a dream about Jesus—Jesus of Nazareth the biblical figure—not the Jesus from Costa Rica who is my roofer. I didn’t grow up with much awareness of Jesus Christ—my family was totally unchurched and I became an atheist in my early teens.
When I came to believe that Jesus was the Savior of the world and I committed my life to be His follower, I had a lot of learning to catch up. I became passionate about understanding the real world my real Savior lived in. That interest grew into my work in biblical archaeology. I can easily teach several courses on the historical Jesus and the details of His earthly life and times.
How does this connect with last week’s dream? Well, since I am a visual person I have very visual dreams. I didn’t see Jesus in the flesh that day so my brain filled His image in with other available data. And herein is the rub—Jesus was a line drawing. Yes, the best my brain could do was a Sunday school handout Jesus—a cartoon Jesus.
I was so disappointed in myself. All that reading and study—all those long hours touring ancient ruins—all that time and all I could come up with was a line drawing Jesus you could download for free from the internet—for coloring purposes.
Once I got over my self-castigation, I looked for some lessons to learn. These I will share with you now. First, the images we make and circulate of Jesus matter. People put them in their heads and they fill in the visual side of the mental equation when they read, think, dream or imagine. I am not arguing we create or become the picture police but it might be nice to seek out authentic renderings of Jesus and add them to the vast reservoir of schlock the church has generated through the centuries. There are some good DVD’s for this—from The Passion of the Christ to The Jesus Film. Maybe there are even some good line drawings out there—I need to check.
As a second lesson, I would say we need to read the Gospels more so we can affirm authentic images of Jesus. I read a chapter each day of a given Bible book. When I get to the end of the book I repeat the process at least three times. When I had my dream last week I was just finishing the New Testament book of Hebrews—I did it five times. Because of my dream I will do the Gospel of John several times and then go to the Gospel of Luke. John portrays Jesus in His divinity and Luke emphasizes His humanity—a great balance.
The ultimate goal for the Christian is to know and love Jesus and not merely to picture Him. But for those of us who are visual people, picturing Him is a natural thing. I doubt if Jesus was concerned that I made Him a line drawing in my dream. After all, anytime He needs me to see Him He can easily take care of that. Maybe the message is that, despite any scholarship I achieve, I will connect to Jesus more as a child than a historian. And, certainly, I will never go wrong spending more time in the Gospels. So, I think I can live with that—even in my dreams.