Monday, April 06, 2020

Anonymous Asks (87)

“Are our dreams from God?”

There are all kinds of theories about what dreams are, what they mean, and the purpose they serve for human beings. One theory is that dreams are our brains attempting to derive meaning from meaningless stimuli, attempting to create order out of chaos. Sigmund Freud saw them as a window into the unconscious. Psychologist Rosalind Cartwright says dreams “help us process new, emotionally important information and add it to our conceptual memory system”. Sleep scientist Robert Stickgold says there is “precious little on which dream researchers agree”.

That about sums it up. From a scientific perspective, the answer is that we don’t know what purpose dreams serve, or if they mean anything at all. Where dreams are concerned, we cannot be certain about much of anything.

Meaningless Dreams

From a Christian perspective, it should be evident that if God created man with the capacity to dream, then dreams surely serve a useful purpose, even if it is merely to allow us to burn off our excess mental energy. But believing that is quite different from believing our nightly reveries are messages to us from God. There is no biblically sound logic that would lead me to conclude my dreams of a zombie apocalypse, of falling off a cliff, of accidentally going to school in my underwear, or of being stuck in the back seat of a speeding car with no driver have any spiritual meaning beyond what seems obvious to me, which is that I need to learn to trust God more fully and completely.

There are things in life of which I am fearful — like public embarrassment, or experiencing things I cannot control. I’m not particularly proud of those fears, and the fact that my subconscious dwells on them with depressing regularity is probably not a great sign. Nor does the occasional romantic dream seem as if God has anything to do with it: not all the dream-objects of my affection are appropriate ones, and many are quite unrecognizable. Dreams are things that happen to me, not things I direct in any way. If I had any kind of say in what I dream, there are certain dreams I would never have again, nightmares most prominently among them. Are such things messages from God? Surely not.

Meaningful Dreams

Still, our Bibles tell us that once in a very long while, a dream may be used as an inferior, very limited form of divine communication:
“Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Dreams are by their very nature ambiguous. You are not awake. Any message you receive in that state is bound to be a bit fuzzy. Moreover, the things you experience in a dream state become increasingly inaccessible with the passage of time. When you wake from a dream, even with a strong emotional impression of one sort or another, at some level you always wonder “Did that really happen?”

As a result, even a dream experienced by a prophet was at some level still obscure to him. God compares a dream to a “riddle”, and we can immediately think of several Bible stories in which this was literally the case: Pharaoh’s dreams, Nebuchadnezzar’s and those of the butler and baker to the king of Egypt. All these dreams required an interpretation. Most times, the riddle-dreams served to trouble the dreamer and spur him to seek a divine explanation. God would then graciously grant an interpretation through one of his servants, after which that servant was inevitably moved into a position of influence. Joseph and Daniel both prospered in this way.

Dreams in Scripture

There are nine significant dreams given by God in Genesis, one in Judges, one in Kings and several in Daniel, and there are references to prophetic dreaming in scripture that confirm God-given dreams occurred at other times as well. (There were also plenty of counterfeits: false prophets who claimed to have received dream-state revelations, but had not.) But when we consider the fact that these books cover thousands of years of human history, we have to recognize those dreams were anomalies. They were highly exceptional events.

In ancient times, dreams were one way God gave personal guidance and direction to people who had no written instructions to work with and furthered his plans and purposes in the world. When God speaks clearly, as in the case of his relationship with Moses, and as is the case when the Holy Spirit carried along the men who wrote the various books of the Bible, dreams are quite unnecessary. The use of dreams as a medium of divine revelation decreases with the passage of time. There are only six New Testament dreams referred to, and four of those were given to Joseph to direct him concerning the protection and care of the Lord Jesus.

In Summary

So then, are your dreams from God? Given the infrequency with which God has used this method over the course of human history, it seems highly unlikely. The men who dreamed dreams which had genuine significance all lived before the Bible was fully written and distributed. God’s purposes in Christ had not yet been made fully known.

Moreover, in almost every case, there was something of earthshaking importance at stake: the genetic integrity of the Messianic line; the enrichment of Jacob at the expense of Laban, which resulted in Jacob’s return to Canaan, where the promises of God in his life would continue to be fulfilled; the deliverance of Israel from their Midianite oppressors; the preservation of the Israelites in Egypt or the Jews in Babylon; the protection of Messiah through Joseph and the wise men; or even the fateful decision of Pilate (he would have been better off listening to his wife, don’t you think?)

These are the sorts of dreams God gives. I have never had one like that, and I have no good reason to suspect I ever will. I don’t imagine you will either.

That doesn’t make it impossible, but let’s be realistic.

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