*Henry was a local friend who had volunteered to help our relief and development office. He was extremely ambitious and his desire to leverage his connection with us for his future prospects was not exactly subtle. Even other locals were a bit taken back by his drive and abnormal energy to get ahead. He represented a certain slice of the younger generation who were reacting against the fatalism of their culture and a bit too intoxicated with the Western ideals of self-determinism and the power to set one’s own destiny.
Yet alongside of his drive he had the normal Central Asian abundance of hospitality and relational energy. It was an interesting mix. One of my teammates befriended Henry and began taking trips with him to visit Henry’s father’s village and flocks and going on mountain picnics with him. During these outings they began to study the Bible together. I was really encouraged to hear that this was happening as much of my time in that season was taken up by my focus on Hama and his network. Occasionally I would have the opportunity to speak briefly into these conversations, but mostly my teammate took point and I prayed and supported as I could.
This state of things continued for a couple of months or so, with Henry seeming close to understanding the gospel and then pulling back in defensiveness. Still, it seemed to be an upward spiral. One summer afternoon I was present in our office as the debate reached a tipping point.
“I need you guys to find me a priest,” Henry said.
“Why do you need a priest?” asked my teammate.
“I need someone who can explain the Bible to me better than you guys can. I just can’t understand it, no matter how hard I try. I need a religious professional.”
“Henry,” my teammate protested, “we are telling you plainly what the Bible says, you don’t need a priest or a pastor.”
“No! I need a priest. I need a professional religious teacher. Then this book will make sense to me.”
The back and forth continued like this for a bit longer. I eventually chimed in as well.
“Henry, you don’t need another human teacher. We’ve been telling you clearly what this book means, but you can’t understand it because you need God’s help. You need the Holy Spirit of God to be your teacher. Only he can open up your eyes now to understand this book. You need the Holy Spirit, not a priest.”
Henry ended up leaving, frustrated. Perhaps we could somehow connect him with a like-minded pastor. Maybe that would make the difference?
The next day Henry came back to our office, pale as a sheet.
“Henry, what is it? Come in!”
“I need to sit down,” Henry said. “I need to tell you something that happened.”
Henry’s entire demeanor was changed. No longer was he projecting his confidant, ambitious, driven persona. For the first time, I saw in his eyes what could have been humility. And fear, there was definitely fear.
Henry insisted we go into an inner room of the house and lock the door behind us.
“I have to tell you what happened last night. You need to help me know what to do,” Henry said. “Last night I was reading in the Bible you gave me. I was reading the book of Proverbs for the first time. I got to chapter three or four I think. I remember thinking about the part where it says ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not lean on your own understanding.’ Then I fell asleep, with the Bible on my chest.”
Henry paused as he collected his thoughts in the dim light of the inner room. There was no electricity so we were sitting in a quiet but somewhat dark space. The taste of a room that needed to be dusted was in the air. Henry was on the couch, we were on two chairs, pulled up close and facing him.
“I had a dream. In my dream I saw a man in shining white robes that came to me. I do not remember everything that he said, but he said to me, in my own language, ‘My son!’ – In my own language!”
“Do you know who that was, Henry?” we asked.
“I know it was Jesus. I don’t know how I know, but I know it was him,” he said. “He had an open book in his hand. He told me that I need to read it. Behind him were several people, also wearing white robes, also with books in their hands. It was you guys. I saw you in my dream standing behind Jesus. I asked Jesus who you were and he said to me, ‘These are my people. You need to listen to them!”
At this point my teammate and turned to one another, wide-eyed with chills going through our bodies. I think we may have laughed in amazement and high-fived.
“Did he really say that, Henry? Did he really say that we were his people and that you should listen to us?! Ha! That’s wonderful, that’s amazing! Wow!”
“Yes,” Henry said, “He said that, and you were there. It was your faces and you were holding books, like you were eager to give them to me.” My teammate and I shot each other knowing glances. We had been vindicated.
“What else did he say?” we asked.
“I can’t remember everything. The only other thing that is clear is that he said, ‘It is the glory of God to conceal things…’ Strange sentence. Does that mean anything to you?”
It had a familiar ring to it, but neither of us could remember off the top of our heads where it was from. So we pulled out our Bibles and laptops and began searching. It didn’t take very long for us to point out to Henry that it was from Proverbs 25:2 – It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search them out. We showed this passage to Henry.
Henry backed away from us, looking frightened.
“I… I didn’t read that part of Proverbs yet. I fell asleep in chapter four. I didn’t read that! But that’s what Jesus said, and there it is, in the Bible, right there! How did he do that?”
My teammate and I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear and shaking our heads. For a couple of college guys who had volunteered to spend a year in the Middle East, we never expected anything like this. It was enough to get to share the gospel with our friends and study the Bible with them. But it seemed that the Holy Spirit was out to rescue some of our friends, like Henry. And he was displaying his sovereign power in doing so.
“Guys,” Henry said, his face now in his hands. “It all makes sense to me now. Everything you’ve been trying to tell me. Everything that the Bible says. It’s so clear now, when yesterday I just couldn’t grasp it. Something has changed.”
“Henry,” we said, “It seems that you found your teacher… or that he found you. The Holy Spirit has given you the light you need to understand God’s word.”
“So what do I do now?” Henry asked.
“Well, now you follow Jesus.”
“But how do I do that?”
We proceeded to walk Henry through the gospel one more time – God as holy creator, man as a fallen sinner, Christ as our savior and sacrifice, and the need to repent and believe. Henry affirmed that he believed all those things. We weren’t exactly sure what to do at that point, having ourselves been chewing on the issues related to the traditional sinner’s prayer as we had inherited it. So we opted to instead lay hands on Henry and to pray that God would confirm his gospel confession as true and if so, establish him in his new faith.
After we prayed Henry looked up, no longer afraid, but now full of joy. He was now a brother. He has quietly continued in his faith to the present day.
But what was going on with the quotation of Proverbs 25:2 in his dream? I am no dream interpreter, but my best guess is that this verse was quoted in Henry’s dream to emphasize that the truth had indeed been sovereignly concealed from him as he wrestled to understand it in his own wisdom. No matter how strong his drive was, Henry just couldn’t make sense of this book. Biblically, there is a particular glory of God that manifests itself in the concealing of mysteries. After all, he is a God with secrets and with thick darkness all around him (Deut 29:29, Ps 97:2). He wanted Henry to know that only the Holy Spirit could remove the veil from his eyes so that he could see the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ. Why? So that it would be all of grace, clearly all of grace with no room for boasting (Eph 2:8-9).
All of grace. Henry didn’t deserve to be given spiritual sight. Neither did I. It is the glory of God to conceal things. Yet praise God, it is also the glory of God to reveal them.
*names changed for security