Tag Archives: dreams

Does God Hold Me Responsible For What I Do In My Dreams?

It’s unlikely God holds us much more accountable for the fantasies that appear in our dreams than He does for the predispositions to sin that we all share, including temptations or evil thoughts that drift into our minds. In fact, some of the things that happen in the theater of our dreams may help us be more aware of our deepest longings, conflicts, and fears.

Sexual fantasy, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and seemingly uncontrollably in dreams. We don’t know how much we are capable of regulating behavior in dreams. Some of the ascetic church fathers thought we are responsible for what we do in dreams, but Scripture nowhere indicates that this is true.1

Dreams are generally things that “happen to us,” not things we consciously choose to do. To the extent that our dreams are “lucid”—that is under the control of our conscious mind—we may find we encounter some genuine temptation. (See What should I think of what I experience in dreams? and Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)

If troubled by dreams, we should commit them to the Lord, asking for protection as we sleep. We should also ask Him to instruct us as we sleep and strengthen our ability to resist both conscious and unconscious temptation.

  1. Furthermore, Scripture nowhere implies that we adopt the other extreme forms of self-discipline the ascetics embraced, such as living in isolation, eating starvation diets, tormenting themselves with hair shirts that constantly itched, remaining unbathed so that lice could multiply, and so on. Back To Article

 

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What Should I Think of what I Experience in Dreams?

Scientific evidence is accumulating that dreams have vital physiological and psychological functions. Our dreams apparently play an important role in creativity and problem solving.

1  This and other scientific discoveries about the important physiological role of dreaming show that the mysterious activity of dreaming is “hardwired” into us by God’s design, for our benefit. For that reason, we shouldn’t fear dreaming.

The Bible illustrates how highly the Hebrews and other ancient people esteemed dreams and those who could interpret them (Genesis 41; Daniel 2), and that they viewed dreams at times as natural (Ecclesiastes 5:3), as evil (Deuteronomy 13:1-2; Jeremiah 29:8), or as divine revelation (Genesis 28:12-13; Genesis 37:5,9). ( See the ATQ article Is it possible that some dreams contain important symbolic meaning—or even a message from God?)

Like the daydreams and thoughts that drift into our minds in our conscious state, dream fantasies generally seem spontaneous. Sexual activity, rage, and violence often occur abruptly and uncontrollably in dreams. In dreams, all of us do things we certainly would never do if we were awake. We also have nightmares that seem to express our deepest fear and insecurity.

Many people describe having had “lucid dreams.” In lucid dreams, we are aware that we are dreaming and are sometimes able to choose our actions. Some early Christian ascetic monks actually believed that we are responsible not only for what we do in our waking state, but for what we do in our dreams. These monks withdrew from society and dedicated themselves to an isolated life of grueling hardship. Their solitary focus on subjective experience may have made them aware of some things that most of us don’t experience.

Occultists in many cultures have been interested in lucid dreams and have sometimes sought to cultivate lucid dreams and increase control over their fantasies. Such efforts to use occult technique to gain control over one’s dreams are sinister. At the very least, they focus attention away from the real world into a fantasy. At the worst, it may open one’s mind to overtly demonic or subconsciously destructive influences. (See the ATQ articles Why Is It Dangerous for Subconscious Images to Penetrate Our Waking Consciousness? and Why Are Channeling and Mediumship Dangerous?)

To the degree we are aware that we are dreaming and to the extent that our dreams are under our control—that is, lucid—we may be responsible for our actions and shaping our character by our choices.

However, the vast majority of dreams aren’t lucid. Most dreams are fantasies created by our sleeping brain from random memories. In certain ways we feel especially vulnerable when we are sleeping. But God never sleeps. He is always guarding and protecting us (Psalm 121:1-3).

Scripture nowhere indicates that God holds us responsible for what happens in our dreams. But our dreams should serve as a vivid reminder of how dependent we are on His love and grace.

  1. See the papers, “Sleep Inspires insight” in Nature magazine, January 2004 (Wagner, Gais, Haider, Verleger, and Born, from research at the University of Luebeck) and “REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks” (Cai, Mednick, Harrison, Kanady, and Mednick). (The Mednick paper is at http://www.saramednick.com/htmls/pdfs/Cai_PNAS_2009) Back To Article
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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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