I dreamed last night a terrible dream. It was one of those heart-pounders that, when you wake up disoriented in the darkened room, it takes a few moments to realize your mistakes and sins were not real, that you didn’t kill the person, quit your job in a colossally gruesome manner, that you didn’t abandon wife or child or make that phone call or say those things after all.
I told my wife about it and she told me to repent.
“But it was just a dream,” I said.
“But it wasn’t real. I would never do what I did in the dream.”
“Repent anyway,” she insisted.
But did I need to? Did I need to repent of what happened only in my mind while I slept? How could I be responsible for what I dreamed, for what over which I had no control? Are not dreams only dreams? Cigars just cigars?
The call to repentance is certainly is one of completeness. Of wholeness. When we repent, we repent of it all. Not just be really bad since that you’re ashamed of. Not just the lust, cursing, the betrayal. Not just those. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” is not a conditional command. When we repent, we repent for all. The things done and left undone, the things that we think, the things we indulge in, and even the things we fail to indulge in. If repentance is real, it is total.
So are dreams included in that grand repentance?
Greek theologians speak of logizmoi, that is, thoughts. It is their word for temptations, but more than just temptations. It is all of those temptations and thoughts that come from outside of us. That are demonic. In this understanding our dreams are yet more manifestations or experiences of these logizmoi. They are the detritus of our shipwrecked souls. All the flotsam and jetsam that pollutes us wash ashore our sleeping minds. Are we responsible for them? Well, they are part of us. They are from us. If it weren’t for our corrupted souls, they really wouldn’t be there-at least not as they are.
It seems strange to repent something over which we apparently have no control. After all, I’m responsible for my own self. The birds may fly overhead, but only I am responsible for keeping them from building a nest in my hair, to paraphrase Luther.
The other day one of my children was unhappy, and began throwing a minor temper tantrum. Over the course of the moaning and the wailing another of my little ones tried to get past her. She was on corporative, and he tripped, banged his toe on something in my car, and tore it open. He began to cry at the blood on his toe even as the sister was wailing about whatever perceived injustice she had received. After all the tears were dried up, I pointed out that our sins have a tendency of snowballing. Her minor sin of throwing the conniption fit had the unintended effect of injuring her brother. Her sin physically hurt another, even though there was no direct correlation, even though the chain of events could never be anticipated, even though there’s a far cry between moaning over injustice to a bleeding child sitting next to her. And yet it happened.
Our sins spiral, gain momentum, amplify and cascade in directions we could never anticipate, ine ways we would be shocked to know. Am I responsible for the hurricane? Am I responsible for the crop failure? Probably. Not in a direct, tangible, scientifically verifiable, logical way, but my sins are death and bring death to everything around me.
Repentance is taking responsibility, taking responsibility not just for my own few actions, but also the consequences of those, and of those, and on and on. I am responsible. I am the sinner. Adam’s sin brought death into this world, and I am Adam’s child.
I will repent. At least I will try. I will repent of my sins, and all sins.
So I will repent of that dream. I didn’t choose it; didn’t want it. But it is of me, from me, somewhere lurking down below me, in that dank cellar where stray thoughts and images filter through and collect.
All these places must be cleansed. The doors of repentance must be opened so that the light of Christ may flow in.