Can Dreams Have Symbolic Meaning or Messages from God?

It’s easy to expect either too little or too much of dreams.

An excellent book by a scientist who has researched the physiology of dreams (The Dreaming Brain by J. Allan Hobson) sets forth the hypothesis that because the brain is never completely inactive during sleep, it is constantly triggering the images of memories and experiences into our sleeping consciousness. Because we human beings are continually in search of meaning (and meaningful patterns), the process of trying to make sense of our world doesn’t stop when we are sleeping. Therefore, even when we are sleeping we try to create order and meaning out of random memories and images projected by our dreaming brain. He concludes that dreams are the result of this process.

After nearly 60 years of reflecting on my dreams, I think Dr. Hobson’s hypothesis fits the content of most of them. Still, I’m not sure that all dreams have a completely random neurological source. Sometimes the images are so unusual that it is hard to remember (or even imagine having had) any memories or experiences that might be their source. In fact, sometimes dreams have such duration and continuity that their content seems created by the interpreting mind rather than rising independently of it. Clearly, Dr. Hobson’s hypothesis leaves open the possibility that some dreams and nightmares expose the conflicts and fears we repress during waking hours as well as the fact that the process of working through problems and issues continues even when we are asleep.

In addition to dreams that might have symbolic significance are supernatural/preternatural dreams. Most of us have heard a trustworthy person tell of a dream that depicted a future event or alerted them to the fact that a loved one was in danger. The Bible also describes dreams that involve clairvoyance or precognition (Genesis 20:3; 31:10, 24; 37:5; 40:5; Numbers 12:6; Judges 7:13; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 2:3; 4:5; 7:1; Joel 2:28; Matthew 1:20; 2:12; 27:19).

When we think about our dreams, it’s important to try to understand them on the basis of Scripture. God warned the Israelites about false prophets who told lies based on dreams:

“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal” (Jeremiah 23:25-27).

In 2 Corinthians 11:14, the apostle Paul warned us that Satan “transforms himself into an angel of light” and could conceivably use dreams to deceive us. Obsession with dreams and their interpretation might lead a person into occult interests and estrangement from reality.

Remember, our heavenly Father is the “Father of lights” (James 1:17) who reveals the truth openly and clearly. He will never give us a message in our sleep that is contrary to reason or Scripture.

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