Jacob's theophany, his dream of angels on a stairway to heaven, has always struck me as an appealing tale of unmerited grace. Here's a man who has just deceived his father and cheated his brother out of an inheritance. But God's response to finding Jacob vulnerable, sleeping all alone in open country, is not to strike him down for his sins, but to give him a great blessing.
Jacob wakes from the dream in awe, exclaiming, "Surely the lord is in this place-and I did not know it! ... This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" For once, his better instincts take hold, and he responds by worshiping God. He takes the stone that he'd kept close by all night, perhaps to use as a weapon if a wild animal or his furious brother, Esau, were to attack him, and sets it up as a shrine, leaving it for future travelers so that they, too, will know that this is a holy place, the dwelling place of God.
Jacob's exclamation is a reminder that God really can choose to dwell everywhere and anywhere we go. One morning this past spring I noticed a young couple with an infant at the airport departure gate. The baby was at the stage where she loved to look into people's faces, and it seemed that as soon as she recognized a human face, no matter whose it was, old or young, pretty or ugly, bored or happy or worried-looking, she would respond with delight.
It was beautiful to see. But even more than that, it brought Jacob, and God's presence, to mind. Our drab departure gate had become the gate of heaven. And as I watched the baby play with any adult who would allow it, I felt as awe-struck as Jacob, because I realized that this is how God looks at us, staring into our faces in order to be delighted, to see the creature he ...1