Dormancy is one of the main features of the winter season, when the plants and trees lie “sleeping” until the time they reawaken with the spring. Dormancy essentially is a state of being in which potentialities lie hidden. Dormancy also is a factor of life that may seem surprising, since the present appearance is not necessarily infallible for determining the presence of life. When something is dormant it appears to be dead but in essence it is alive.
We need to be careful then, in judging the of state of things by appearance only. Something that is dormant may give very little evidence of its true state. In the spring we check the roses and other plants to detect if they “overwintered” or not, and if we do not know what signs to look for and assume death, we may uproot and cast away something that was actually alive.
It is also interesting to note the cause of dormancy. The cause is a change in external conditions that create a reaction in the living organism that is a means of self protection. The change of seasons brings a change to living things, sometimes causing what appears to be death, but the life is actually preserved. This is one of the wonders of life!
Two instances of the Biblical use of the process of dormancy are authored by Paul, and use the process to illustrate the dormancy of sin in the heart and the dormancy of life in death.
The dormancy of sin in the heart.
One instance where we see the process used is actually rather curious. In Romans 7:8 the apostle Paul makes a statement about sin:
“For apart from the law sin is dead.”
But what Paul says next shows that sin “apart from the law” is not really dead, but merely dormant:
“but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life again…” (translation of Douglas Moo: The Epistle to the Romans, p.431)
Paul is using the principles of dormancy to illustrate the principle of the hiddenness of sin. Sin is a thing that is alive within us, though it may not be recognized as such. This is because the law, which is like a new season, has not yet arrived within our consciousness. Sin in us, is still in the dormancy of winter. But with the coming of the law (spring) sin springs from its dormancy into life. What Paul is trying to illustrate here is the fact that all people have sin within them, but they do not recognize it for what it is. It has not manifested itself to their awareness as vitally alive in their thoughts and actions. Our awareness of the law of God is what brings this sin awareness as sin “springs to life again.” That Paul’s is illustrating this process within us is evident from his preceding statement:
“But I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7)
What Paul is talking about is the subjective experience of sin and the law that occurs when the law of God actually convicts us of sin. For obviously the law exists objectively outside of us, and sin exists objectively within us. But until we experience these subjectively we are not aware of them in relation to us. Furthermore, they do not effect us as they should according to God’s plan to use their lessons that we have violated his law, and that we sin is a vital motive within us, so that we can be led to the awareness of our need for salvation.
The dormancy of life in death.
Another place where we see the process of dormancy is also interestingly used by Paul when he talks about seeds. In 1 Corinthians 15:36-38 he wrote:
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. (ESV)
Paul is saying that seeds do not “come to life” unless they first “die.” Obviously seeds have a germ of life within them and therefore do not die in the ground but lie dormant. He also points out that the “body that is to be” is quite different and developed in comparison to the “bare kernel.” In fact it is quite amazing that the body that is to be somehow came from the bare kernel. Think of how different the grown plant or tree is from the seed it came from.
Paul is using the process of dormancy within seeds to illustrate the relationship between the human body that dies and the human body that will be resurrected:
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
Like a seed, the human body is perishable, sown in dishonor (buried), sown in weakness (apparently dead). But like the magnificent plant that comes from the dishonored seed, the human body is raised imperishable, in glory, in power. Paul was saying these things to the Corinthians because they had doubts that there was a resurrection of the dead. But Paul points out two main things to them.
First he says that if there is no resurrection of the dead then Jesus Christ cannot have been resurrected. And if Jesus has not been raised then there is really no point in having faith (1 Cor. 15:13-19). But Paul reminds them that many, including himself, had witnessed Jesus after he was raised (1 Cor. 15:5-8).
Second, Paul says that their doubts regarding the nature of the resurrection body should not prevent their belief that there is a resurrection. This is where his illustration comes in, as he presses upon them the fact that we observe miraculous life springing from seemingly dead bodies all the time: seeds! Here we cannot enter fully into the extent or nature of the continuity or discontinuity between our present body and the resurrection body, or the challenges this may present to our scientific understanding of life. But I will say that the Bible does not merely teach the survival of a disembodied soul or spirit, but the resurrection of a “spiritual body” and that there is continuity and discontinuity between the body that is sown and the body that is raised. The biblical teaching here is that bodily life will somehow lie dormant after the death of the body, while awaiting its resurrection to new life.
In conclusion we point to the mystery of life that is evident in the process of dormancy. We observe seeds that appear to be dead and are then unceremoniously buried in the ground but which surprisingly burst forth in vital new life with wondrous new and glorious bodies. We observe within us hidden darkness lurking as undiscovered sin that with the entrance of God’s light reveals within us the germ that has infected all human life and born bitter fruits in the external world. We experience seasons of change that propel us into dormancy in the dark valley of the shadow of death, but even this can be transformed by hope in the promise that we can still spring forth in unexpected renewal. (See 2 Corinthians 4:16) We may lie down in dormancy each night as though in death, but are brought to life again with the coming morning. (see Psalms 30:5) All people have a secret hope that death is not final. This hope is universal because God has given those created in his image an intuition that points toward eternity. (See Ecclesiastes 3:11) We all hope for dormancy.
The early Christian’s referred to their deceased loved ones as having “fallen asleep,” knowing that the one that said “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping…”, knew the deep mysteries of life, including the mysterious and miraculous principles of dormancy.