In this dream, I rushed toward a large igloo-shaped structure where I was going to take the most important test of all time. I’m a graduate of Princeton University and Cornell Medical School and have had interviews at other prestigious universities and for jobs around the country, so I realize all that can hinge on a brief performance situation, but this was different.
What made this test so unusual was that I didn’t know what the anticipated outcome would be if I passed or if I failed – all I knew was that I had to pass no matter what. Even worse, I had no idea what the test parameters or criteria were, just that I had to convince whoever was making the final decision to choose me.
A long line of applicants wound tightly around the huge dome, and as I raced toward the end of the line, I arrived there at the same time as, or, more honestly, a split second after, another applicant. We both jockeyed for position, and even though I knew she really had arrived first, I pushed ahead of her, due to my sense that time was of the essence.
But surprisingly, the line was moving at lightning speed, and within moments I was inside the dome. There were many displays set up, which appeared to be miniature dioramas depicting battles and other world events, although I didn’t understand their significance. There were also writings in arcane languages I couldn’t read, and I was baffled as to what I was supposed to do next.
“Do you know how much time we have?” another applicant asked me anxiously.
“No, but it’s probably not going to be enough, so there’s no sense in wasting it on pointless discussions,” I replied rudely.
Still having no idea what I was supposed to do, I assumed that I should write a report on the exhibits, but there was no paper. I asked the proctor if he had any, and he handed me a tiny slip of lined paper that would barely hold a few words, along with a large stack of other materials. These included draftsman’s tools (a T-square and a right-angle triangle), a score to the opera La Traviata, and a large, gaudy, sequined applique decoration.
Of course, these additional materials did nothing to clarify the task at hand. I was now hopelessly confused and despondent of ever achieving the desired result, and tried to make the best of a dismal situation. The paper was far too small for me to write an essay or even the simplest of observations. I am terrible at drawing and don’t know how to make blueprints, so I knew I couldn’t use the drafting tools to impress the examiner with my abilities. I don’t read Italian, and although I enjoy singing, I doubt I could do justice to any of the arias in the La Traviata score.
Which left the big, tacky, sparkling applique decoration. True, it didn’t really belong to me, but maybe I could use it to adorn a dance costume, and the proctor hadn’t specifically said not to take the test materials out of the building, I rationalized, so what would be the harm in keeping it?
Suddenly it hit me how miserably I had failed. The test was not about my answers, or essay, or artwork, or singing, or about my performance at all – at least not in terms of how the world measures success. The test had served to prove what a terrible person I am, one unworthy of any special position or consideration.
First, I had put my own needs ahead of those of another, even though she rightly deserved to go ahead of me. Then I was rude and mean-spirited to someone who needed my help and encouragement. Finally, I had falsely justified stealing something that wasn’t mine.
I awoke in a panic, the motor of my mind racing at breakneck speed. But then I felt an all-forgiving sense of peace and acceptance as I felt the loving embrace of Jesus.
“I came to seek and save that which was lost; to bring not the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” I imagined Him saying (Luke 19:10 5:32). He did it all, the perfect sacrifice for our sins, dying on the cross to reconcile sinners to His Holy Father, and rising again so that all who place their faith in Him as their Lord and Savior have eternal life (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15).
No one can pass the test, for we are all sinners deserving eternal punishment in hell (Romans 3:10, 23). Our limited human minds can’t even bend around the idea of what that would be like, in all its horror (Mark 9:43-48), or what wonderful blessings Our Father has planned in Heaven for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). How tragic it is that the lost don’t even realize the stakes involved, or know how to be sure they can spend eternity in Heaven.
As we enter the dome of this world for our all-too-brief stay (James 4:14), there are many opportunities to excel, bringing the world’s admiration for our accomplishments, or glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31), depending on our motives (1 Corinthians 3:8-15). We operate from our little corner of the universe, watching world events unfold throughout history without any true understanding.
But what the Bible makes clear is that none of us can perform well enough or do sufficient good works to earn our way to Heaven, because our righteousness is as filthy rags beside His pure holiness (Isaiah 64:6). We are saved by His grace through faith, not by our works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The T-square in the dream reminded me of the cross, where Jesus said “It is finished,” (John 19:30) as He alone accomplished His saving work to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19; Hebrews 2:17). And the triangle reminded me of the Trinity, as well as of the relationships that God commands us to have. If we imagine ourselves at the right angle of the triangle, we are to love Him (extending upward in the vertical direction of the triangle), and to love one another (extending outward in the horizontal direction of the triangle; Luke 10:27)
Due to our sin nature, we sometimes turn our attention not to heavenly things such as the cross or the Trinity, but we let our minds and hearts drift to the glittery, yet eternally insignificant, baubles the world provides (Romans 12:2;; Matthew 6:19-25). Even worse, we may resort to stealing, hurting other people, or other sinful means to get what we think we want, when the best and perfect gifts (James 1:17) of His grace (Ephesians 2:8; 2 Timothy 1:9) and wisdom (James 1:5) are freely available to all His children.
Time is short, and we will meet with temptation along the way. Interestingly, a search of Google reveals that the name “La Traviata” means “The Fallen Woman” or “The Woman Who Goes Astray.” God always provides a way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), but sadly, we don’t always take it. Yet when we fail, praise God that the shed blood of His Son washes away our sins (John 1:29), and that when God looks at us He sees not our sins, but the perfect righteousness of His Son! (Romans 4)
The true test is not our own qualificatiions or how well we can perform on our own, for without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). But when we come to the end of ourselves and realize that we are sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23), and that He is the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), He immediately accepts us and grants us entry! He transforms us from His enemies to His children, joint heirs with Christ, and His ambassadors! (Romans 8:16-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20)
The true test is how we answer His question, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15-17)