Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dreams and Spirituality

Daniel 1:17 – As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

When I was a teenager I remember eating spicy food while watching a scary movie. The combination of the two gave me nightmares. I woke up the next morning exhausted from all the crazy dreams I had. After having this happen to me a couple of times, I learned not to combine those two things together before going to sleep.

Dreams are caused by a wide variety of things. Many theorize that dreams are our sub-conscious mind’s way of sorting out what is going on in our lives. But could dreams be more than that? We read stories in the Bible where dreams had specific meanings. Many of us have had unique dreams that made us wonder if God was trying to send us a message.

Kelley Bulkeley is a dream researcher and theologian who wrote Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion. Bulkeley reports in an April 4, 2016 article in Time magazine that modern neuroscience “says that dreams can prime us to be spiritual, in one form or another.” She goes on to explain that the Sleep and Dream Database includes extensive research that shows “that half of American adults say they’ve had at least one visitation dream” where someone came to them in a dream to give them a message. Some people focused on the people in their dreams, but most focused on the message itself. Could this message have meaning beyond just spicy food and scary movies?

This is a question many evangelical Christians are also asking.  Could God use dreams to communicate messages to His people? Some strands of evangelicalism widely accept dreams as messages from God. Other strands of evangelicalism are more skeptical. Most evangelicals who accept the possibility of God sending messages in dreams make it clear that God would never contradict Himself. That means that if a dream was in opposition to the Bible, then it could not be from God. Dreams that contradict the scripture are more likely the result of spicy food and scary movies. But what about the ones that seem to confirm what God has already declared in scripture? There is no real way to prove either side of that debate because dreams are too subjective for that. Therefore, scholars will keep debating that issue until the end of time. 

So what good is Bulkeley’s research if we can’t really prove that any particular dream is from God? Her research provides an interesting conversation starter with our non-believing friends about how dreams and faith might be connected. Bulkeley concludes that though “Science may not be able to prove the existence of God . . . it can prove that, for many people, dreams offer a way to expand their sense of reality and attain a higher level of being.” As our culture becomes post-Christian and fewer people know the Bible, discussing dreams might open the door for a larger conversation about spirituality. These discussions could be the means by which the Lord causes people to think about spirituality. It is good for evangelical Christians, even ones skeptical about spiritual messages through dreams, to know something about this topic so that we can use this issue as one of our tools for starting Gospel conversations with others.

Lord, help us take every opportunity You give us to talk to our friends about issues of faith. Amen.


Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at:

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