We Christians often think the only important part of the Jerusalem story is Calvary, and, yes, suffering and killing in that place still seem to be the loudest news. But Calvary was a waypoint in the larger arc of God’s dream – it’s on the way to Jerusalem, it is not in Jerusalem. Jesus’ passion was and is for God’s dream of a reconciled creation. General Convention opening address, 7 July 2009, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and PrimateIndeed, according to the Episcopal Life Online news service, denominational President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson, in addressing the ECW Triennial July 14, asked the rhetorical question, "Am I keeping my eye on the prize here? ...God's dream ... (in which) we are all in peaceful relationship with each other. We are whole and happy; the lions lie down with the lambs. There is enough to eat for everyone. (It's) the world as it should be -- a world reconciled, as God made it."
In all fairness to the leadership of TEC, the coinage preexisted their usage by some 35 years, making us surprised we hadn't heard it before. There's a lengthy analysis of "God's dream" in two posts on the blog Herescope that's well worth checking out. Here are just a couple of highlights.
The first use of "God's Dream" appears to be in the work of televangelist Rev. Robert Schuller: "He has a dream for your life and your church. He will reveal His dream by causing you to desire what He wants.…Listen to this dream, 'For it is God at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve His purpose'…," Schuller writes in his 1974 book, Your Church Has Real Possibilities.
Now, this use of the idea of God dreaming is... Californian, but not otherwise objectionable. Substitute a tougher noun like "plan" or "purpose" for "dream" and there's really nothing to bother a person. But while Schuller refers to God's "dream" for a person's life and ministry (over which the individual person still exerts free will), TEC leadership and others refer to God's "dream" for the world, and that takes on a whole different dimension.
This wider use of the phrase originates with Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu: "God says to you, 'I have a dream. Please help me to realize it.' It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts," he writes in God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, 2004. This book includes a chapter titled "God Only Has Us", and this is where we start to feel a bit twitchy.
Let's deconstruct this a little, starting with the meaning of "dream". Merriam-Webster includes the following applicable definitions:
1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep
2: an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream: as a visionary creation of the imagination
4: a strongly desired goal or purpose.
We can rule out the first definition on the grounds that the great I AM lives in the eternal present and neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). We can rule out the second on the grounds that there's no need for God to "imagine" a perfect world when it was originally created perfect (Genesis 1), which leaves us with "a strongly desired goal or purpose", a definition which seems to fit the use of the word "dream" by the Presiding Bishop, Dr. Anderson and Archbishop Tutu.
The definition begs the question, "If God strongly desires a certain goal or purpose, what prevents God from achieving that goal or purpose?" Archbishop Tutu would appear to answer with the claim that "God only has us." And that's where the problem arises.
We run into dangerous territory when we start to assume that Almighty God needs anything from us. We are reminded of this when John the Baptist warns those proud of their lineage, "from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham." (Luke 3:8). God created the laws of physics and nature but is not bound by them. Anything God wants for the world can and will be done with or without any "help" from us.
Secularists enjoy saying that man created God in his own image. While humanity is, indeed, in God's image, this is an image in miniature. God's power is vast, God's ways unknowable, and to diminish the Almighty by claiming we are needed rather than just loved is profoundly disrespectful.
In God's Sovereign power, holiness, love and grace, Jesus -the very Son of God- offered up His Life to save us. This is not a dream, it is sacred reality for all who repent and believe. Alleluia!