Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan

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Does God speak in dreams?

A reader wondered if God speaks to us in dreams. His wife died several years ago and he dreamed of her happily waving to him and (sort of) calling him on. I'd soldier on (as most lovers do) if I didn't have Ethel but I wouldn’t stop missing her. We've been too long together and enjoyed too much history together. I just know she'd hate it if I were living in misery because I no longer had her. She'd rather I lived in happiness because we did have each other for so long. But missing her wouldn't be a choice—I'd just do it.

Some of our dreams are good and some are bad. They're made up of our joys and fears and hopes and disappointments, our experiences and things we'd like to experience. They get all jumbled up and while some of us sleep without dreaming (and I'm definitely not one of those!) others of us dream a lot.

Does God speak to us in dreams? Sure he does. I'm not saying he comes and speaks to us and gives us direct revelation as we read of him doing in some places in the old and new Testaments (though if he wants to do that I'll let him—which is sweet of me). But he does shape and build us up through truth and life on a daily basis and our dreams are (in part) expressions of the things he leads us to hope for and rejoice in. So when we dream something lovely, something strong and good, when in our dreams we're looking for righteousness and the triumph of the spirit we should attribute all that to his influence. And if we're struggling with sin that for the moment seems to have us beat, that'll come out in our dreams as well. We shouldn't be phobic about sin but it's no surprise and we shouldn't regret that we're concerned about it. Christ didn't go to the cross to make us think that sin was no big deal and much less did he go there to make it easier for us to sin and shrug it off. So people shaped by the cross may well dream about the seriousness and threat of sin.

It's true that things other than God shape us so sometimes some of us dream things we're ashamed of when we waken. But if we feel ashamed (unless we're over the top with it) that too is the work of God. It seems obvious that we dream what we take in and that dreams express something of who we are and how we react to life's experiences. Some experiences come at a critical moment in our lives and leave a deeper impression than others that are more recent and that we might think are more vivid and dramatic. This should (and probably does) mean that some things we would think we should be "over" by now still linger despite the fact that we consciously want rid of them. This is all part of the human condition. But God is Lord even of the human condition and works with us where we are.

So when we dream of husbands or wives or family and friends smilingly calling us on we’re dreaming the truth we’ve been taught by God in one way or another. But, surely, it all sounds so "natural" that we can hardly say it is God speaking to us. This is one of our real problems when it comes to God and scripture. We seem to think if it isn’t pretty well miraculous or a manifest divine intervention where "natural laws" are circumvented or nullified that the result can’t be God at work. This is sheer nonsense. There’s no doubt in my mind that God has worked miracles and if he’s good and ready he’ll work more but it's rubbish to think that unless what he does runs contrary to natural law then we shouldn’t say it's God at work.

"Natural law" is the will and work of God, it is the expression of his continued maintenance and governing of the universe. As Chesterton and the psalmists before him remind us, the sun doesn’t come up in the east because the earth spins, it comes up because God says, "Get up!" God created and sustains our world and he grows people through "laws" as surely as he guides worlds in their orbits by...by whatever he does it by! And if he wanted the sun to stand still (this is the language of "appearance) in Joshua’s day, that’s his will too. He grows and transforms people via "natural laws" of personhood and that involves environment, teaching and experiences of this kind or that.

Does he speak to us in dreams? Might as well as the book of Proverbs if he speaks to us in daily experience. Of course he does!

So if you dream of a glad reunion with those you love and you have given yourself to God then you’re dreaming the truth that God has fed you and led you to long for.

Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan