I had a dream recently that shocked me. I was at United in Peterborough, New Wine’s summer conference a few weeks ago. It was great to be there, seeing so many people worshipping Jesus, encountering God’s presence, receiving prayer and, I trust, being equipped for lives of worship and mission. For me, though, the thing that stood out most didn’t take place in a main session, seminar, or even in prayer. It occurred at night, in bed, while asleep in the camper-van that our friend Barry had kindly lent to us.
Revelation: Dying Girl
I awoke on the morning of 27th July 2022 having had a dream that was crystal clear and felt like it had lasted all night. My mind was stirred and my heart arrested. I wrote it down, trying to capture all the details. Here’s what I dreamed.
In my dream I saw a young girl, trapped and suspended in a tank-like cage. The child was only a few years old and had Down syndrome. This young girl, bobbing around in the tank, was called Grace. Outside the tank and above it was a group of aggressive gorillas and every now and then one would reach in and strike her. They’d do this for no apparent reason, other than boredom or entertainment. Each swipe would injure the girl, often drawing blood and sometimes taking chunks of flesh out of her fragile body. Many of the blows struck her head and would daze her, although she didn’t complain or cry. This was her existence – her ‘normal.’ It was all the life she knew, and I realised I was witnessing her death. I was revolted by what I was watching. It felt so unfair, unkind and tragic. And yet I was doing nothing. I passively looked on, observing the sickening, leisurely, brutal murder of a vulnerable young girl named Grace.
On awakening I spent time praying and pondering this dream about grace. It seemed to contain an unusually foreboding but important message – for me and others. Its significance was highlighted when, after breakfast, I picked up an as-yet unread book I had purchased the previous day, and began to read words which were uncannily similar to my dream:
‘Grace is the gift of creation given to humanity … You and I reflect God. When we look at people or when they look at us, we see a reflection of the God of Genesis 1. We are created in his image … A quadriplegic two-year old with Down syndrome possesses the image of God and therefore has infinite worth and value in the eyes of God, not because of what she does, but because of whom she reflects. Every human, every single one, bears the glorious image of the transcendent Creator.’ (P. Sprinkle: Charis, [Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2013], pp.35-36).
The Lord had my attention. So I carefully considered the dream: its content, meaning and response, being convinced it carried a message about The Slow Death of Grace.
Interpretation: The Slow Death of Grace
The dream was about grace. Grace is generous love. It’s a love like no other, that I often describe as unconditional, undeserved and unending, and it’s most perfectly seen in the person of Jesus Christ, and mediated by the Holy Spirit. It’s what we’re made for – to give and receive.
The dream was about destruction. Harmful and inhuman forces were at work, toying with and playfully killing grace, contented to see her demise.
The dream was about people who are vulnerable. Children are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and, along with the elderly are so often inadequately protected from exploitation and forces of destruction.
The dream was about people who are female. Girls and women have, for too long, come second place to boys and men, being told they lack worth and often deprived of opportunity.
The dream was about people with special needs. We see so few people with Down syndrome these days, for most are aborted before even having the chance to take a breath.
The dream was about people doing nothing. It involved people sitting back and watching and being horrified, and yet doing nothing. And I was one.
Application: Questions & Action
This dream raised all sorts of issues for me about grace, which require a response. Some of them are questions, which I need to consider and resolve. Here are a few:
- What is the state of grace in contemporary society?
- Is grace trapped and under attack? Does the plight of grace need championing and liberating?
- How should grace affect how we treat the most vulnerable in society?
- While some things have improved for girls, does grace help us see what more can be done?
- As we look through the lens of grace, does our vision of humanity include people with special needs, or are we going to continue to systematically abort so many in the womb?
- What am I going to do about all this?
This last question is the hardest. Of course I have been praying about what I should do, and writing this blog-post has helped me reflect. But there is more, I am sure. I probably need to shout more about grace from the rooftops. Preach more about grace from the pulpit. Sing more about grace in my worship. Tell more stories of grace at the meal-table.
Most of all, as a follower of Jesus, is my daily life overflowing with grace?
And as a church leader, is there a future preaching series to preach on grace?
And as a writer, is there a book to write, on The Slow Death of Grace?
A world bereft of grace will be dreary, dark and demonic. A world infused with grace will be caring, compassionate and kind. Which do I want? Which will I contend for?
Surely I won’t sit back and observe the slow death of grace. Will I?
Wow that amazing and raises so many questions not only for you but the church as a whole.
Food for thought
What a heartbreaking, gruesome vision. A shocking powerful impact with challenges on so many levels – not only in our faith but in the world too. Plenty of food for thought, prayer and asking Him what’s on His heart as we respond to this.
Thanks for sharing this Matthew – it is indeed important.
Iv’e got a whole lot more questions 🙂
In the vison Grace is a baby. I wonder – is grace necessarily childlike and therefore always vulnerable or does our concept and understanding of grace need to ‘ grow up’ ? If Grace is a picture of an aspect of the church why is she so small and newborn? Have we not grown up in grace as we ought to have done? And then added to that, Grace has Down Syndrome. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with everything you say about the vulnerable, the marginalised and the aborted ( 92% of Downs babies in Europe are terminated – what an unbelievable tragedy) I also wonder if the Lord isn’t also saying that our understanding of grace has been disabled. ( Or perhaps our ability to operate in grace. ) Down Syndrome often results in hearing difficulties, cognitive impairment and shortened life expectancy. Grace is not only caged, ( thankfully , for her cage is what is keeping her alive) an infant and unable to defend herself, but is also likely to grow with difficulties in hearing, seeing and understanding. ( Please note this is not a judgement on anyone born with a disability Im just trying to figure out what God is saying about the state of Grace in the church and in my own life)
The gorillas……. in some senses the state of Grace wouldn’t matter if it were not for her attackers. Who or what are they and why is the only defence Grace has against them her cage?? The gorillas need to be caged and Grace needs to be free. God is using the cage to protect Grace but this cant be how it is supposed to be. How does Grace get out of the cage and how do the gorillas get trapped and contained? We are living in an upside down world where God’s values are trashed and it feels like the gorillas are winning. But they arent. Grace cannot die. She can’t. ‘ The Word became flesh and dwelt among us……We beheld His glory, full of grace and truth. ‘ Grace will grow, flourish and defeat her enemies. She has to. And we have to help her with everything we have got.
Hi Caz. Thank you for your reflections and questions, especially about the gorillas – which are so helpful.
And of course you’re right, grace will never die, despite there being so much ‘ungrace’ in the world (Yancey).
Much more consideration and prayer for me here.
Thanks and God bless. Matthew