God often spoke to his people through dreams in the Bible. The ancients did not often draw a clear distinction between a dream and a vision - both were God's revelation to the conscious or subconscious mind.
When evaluating contemporary dream/vision claims, we must ask a number of questions. Firstly, whether God still communicates in such ways; secondly, whether the particular episode was from God or some other source; thirdly, what should be the interpretation and/or action required in consequence.
The first point is fundamental: does God speak like this nowadays? Some may say that he has no need to, as Scripture is complete and we should look here for guidance. Whilst Scripture is always a sure guide, nowhere does it say that its coming would be the end of God speaking in other ways. Indeed, many Muslims have come to faith through a dream or vision of Jesus. Also the Bible is clear that God uses dreams (Nu 12:6; Jb 33:14-16).
But are all dreams from God? Not at all. The prophets denounced those who chose to 'prophesy the delusions of their own minds' (Je 23:26; Ezk 13:2). So-called 'prophetic' visions can even be the result of demonic activity (1 Ki 22:20- 23). Certainly most dreams will have no spiritual significance whatsoever, but simply be the ruminations of our subconscious (Ec 5:3) One observation that may help is that dreams and visions from God sometimes come in response to earnest prayer (eg Acts 10:1-6).
Some dreams have a simple message (eg Acts 16:9) whilst some come with the interpretation (eg Dan 8). Others still require a separate interpretation (eg Gn 40:1-40).
If we are confronted with a dream and wonder if it is from God (either our own dream or someone else's), how should we evaluate it? If the meaning is clear we must first determine whether it is contrary to Scripture in what it says. If so then we must reject it. Does the dream answer a specific dilemma we are in? If so, we must be careful that this is not our own minds giving us the easy option out of a difficult situation. It is vital in all cases to seek advice from wise Christians we trust and to pray for wisdom, both regarding the interpretation of a dream and any possible action we think it should prompt.
Differential Diagnosis 38
Lk 5:17-26: Jesus healed a paralytic - what might have been the aetiology?
Luke's opinion in the next issue.