In our Christian lives, we often encounter experiences we can’t explain. Recently I had a dream that surprised me and left me wondering about its significance. It was startling because I rarely remember my dreams, and it pertained to something that was not immediately on my radar. In the course of conversation with one of the elders in our church, he sympathized with me and told me that he carries a big bag behind him into which he tosses all of the experiences he doesn’t understand. (He admits that after four decades of ministry, this bag is getting rather full.)
But more than just not understanding things, how do we process these surprising and sometimes strange incidents? They are tough to ignore, but does that mean they are automatically divine revelation? Are they fallible? How do we understand them?
First, we should remember that nothing escapes God’s providence. That is, God upholds and governs all things. All things come to pass as if from his fatherly hand. Even these surprising coincidences and dreams come to us under the providence of God. But just because God is sovereign over the events of our daily life doesn’t mean he is speaking to us through all of these things. Some things happen without any ultimate divine significance.
All things come to pass as if from his fatherly hand. Even these surprising coincidences or even dreams come to us under the providence of God. But just because God is sovereign over the events of our daily life doesn’t mean he is speaking to us through all of these things.
Second, remember that God speaking to people through dreams is not a routine occurrence in the Bible and throughout history. We might be tempted to think otherwise, assuming it’s the normal experience of all who follow God. But is it? While there are certainly examples, it is not the norm. Graeme Goldsworthy speaks to this question in his book Gospel Trilogy(540). He writes, “Every case of special guidance given to individuals in the Bible has to do with that person’s place in the outworking of God’s saving purposes.” He adds, “There are no instances in the Bible in which God gives special and specific guidance to the ordinary believing Israelite or Christian in the details of their personal existence.”
What do we do with dreams?
As believers living today, we are well advised to, as the centuries of Christians who have come before us, to find our guidance chiefly from the Word of God, the Scriptures, rather than our dreams or even our intuitions. This does not mean that God won’t use dreams or that he can’t, but just that it is not the primary way that God speaks to us; this is reserved for the Scriptures. We should be careful to submit everything—even dreams or feelings or other experiences—to the Bible. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb. 1:1–2).
As believers living today, we are well advised to, like the centuries of Christians who have come before us, to find out guidance chiefly from the Word of God, the Scriptures, rather than our dreams or even our intuitions.
We might think of these type of things that get our attention like driving advice from children in the backseat. If you are a parent of small children, you have likely received advice from your kids about the route you are taking, better ideas for the day, or feedback on some other decisions. Often, like a strange dream, the interaction seems to come out of nowhere and has little value to you as you drive. But occasionally, they say something that gets your attention. It causes you to reflect, reconsider, and perhaps even change your plans. The input forces you back to another source to evaluate. Surprisingly, they can be quite helpful. So it is with things like this that we cannot explain. Are they infallible? Certainly not. Are they authoritative? No. Can they get our attention and be helpful? Definitely.
As the events we don’t understand fill up the bag we carry behind us, we are well served to fill our minds with the Bible. In the all-sufficient Scriptures God has given us everything we need to know him, love him, and faithfully serve him in this life. The stuff we don’t understand may get our attention, but it best serves us when it drives us back to the more sure Word.