When I was growing up in Arkansas, I spent many happy afternoons with my paternal grandmother, watching soap operas like General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, and All My Children together, usually with a cool glass of sun tea in hand. I loved the plotlines involving amnesia most. Often, it happened to a heroine: After some accident or botched murder attempt, she’d wake up in the hospital (with perfect hair and freshly applied lipstick), physically intact but unable to remember a thing about her past. For weeks we’d watch as she struggled to put the pieces of herself back together, and then on some otherwise unassuming Tuesday, it would all return to her in a flash. Wrongs were righted. The villain who caused all the drama was punished. Love conquered all—at least until the next story arc began.
Amnesia—a term derived from the Greek word amnēsía, which means “forgetfulness”—is such a strange state of being. How can you remain fully yourself with all your likes and dislikes, preferences and quirks intact but not know who you are? However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that none of us ever really comprehend ourselves completely. We act and react in ways we don’t understand. We are motivated by mysterious impulses, wooed away by a chorus of temptations. The apostle Paul captured this conundrum perfectly in Romans 7:15, “For I do not understand what I am doing; for I am not practicing what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Thankfully, there will come a day when all the confusion about ourselves will fall away. Paul describes the moment with a compelling image. He writes, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12 ESV).
Nowhere in Scripture is this uncovering more enticingly described than in Revelation 2:17 when John writes, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it” (ESV).
“God has never made something for nothing. He has a definite purpose for all our lives.”
According to Strong’s Dictionary, the Greek word used in this verse is pséphos, which means “pebble.” But don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity. There’s more to the story. Scholars at the Getty Conservation Research Foundation Museum have used ancient pottery to discern that it was a common practice to use stones when voting in the ancient world, a time when paper was scarce and many were illiterate. So when it came time to make a decision for the community, stones were the perfect way for citizens to let their voices be heard. They would select either a white or black stone and drop it in the counting urn or pile. A white stone mean “yes,” and a black stone meant “no.” So in essence, Christ—by giving us each a white stone—is bestowing a “yes” vote on each of us, demonstrating our acceptance in Him.
But according to John, it isn’t a blank stone. It is inscribed with a new name, one only the recipient knows. The Greek term used here is onoma, and it refers to more than a simple collection of letters. Again, a quick examination of Strong’s Dictionary is helpful. According to its authors, onoma in the figurative sense is “the manifestation or revelation of someone’s character … distinguishing them from all others.” The name written on each of our white stones is the real “us,” the true self we’ve been striving to find and live into here on earth.
In his sermon “Molded by the Master,” Dr. Stanley said, “God has never made something for nothing. God made every single one of us and is in the process of making us. He has a definite purpose for all our lives. He doesn’t keep secrets.” Dr. Stanley is absolutely right. Our names will not be withheld from us forever; one day we will know ourselves and our Lord as we have always been known. Though we may be frustrated now, there will come a time when our “spiritual amnesia” will fall away as we step into God’s glorious presence for all eternity.
Illustration by Adam Cruft