Finding God in Dreams

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Finding God in Dreams title graphic

 

The following is an excerpt from Help Thou Mine Unbelief: Scientific, Historical, and Spiritual Evidence of God.

Dreaming is a universal part of being human and is one of the many metaphysical ways God communicates with His children. While most dreams seem of little value on a day-to-day basis, very few would argue against how amazingly helpful some dreams can be. They can provide all of us with a potpourri of benefits such as prophetic insight, flashes of creativity, and elevated self-awareness.

Some dreams are filled with messages about religious matters and spiritual awakenings from beyond the veil that seem to cry out that there is a God. They provide sacred solace and enlightenment, even a foretaste of eternity, and are produced and directed especially for a particular individual, at a particular time, for a particular purpose.

A Dream Helped me through a Crisis of Faith

Aerial view of city complex
I learned that every question will be answered in heaven.

I was blessed with one such dream at a time when my faith was being tested. I’ve never had another like it so appreciate its lasting effects on my faith and testimony. The dream began with me and one of my best friends sitting on a bench outside the office of our bishop, apparently waiting to go in for interviews. As we sat there we began to discuss my intense desire to glimpse beyond the veil and witness, for myself, that life did indeed go on after death and that what I had been taught all my life in the Church was true.

My friend listened caringly and then said out of the blue, “I can take you there.” I responded with incredulity but was assured that she could take me through the veil into the spirit world right then and there. When I excitedly agreed, the image in my dream showed us instantaneously leaving one realm and finding ourselves in another. I understood this place to be the spirit world where the spirits of those who have died reside prior to the resurrection and judgment.

The portion of this world in which we found ourselves looked very much like the inside of a big high school or college campus. There were roomy open areas like cafeterias and outside courtyards that were filled with people in small and large groups in the process of learning. Group leaders or teachers were instructing these souls in what I sensed were principles of eternal progression. I say “sensed” because I never actually heard anything audible, although I could hear my friend as she conducted the tour.

I asked her if I could get all my questions answered in this place, and she assured me that I could. Needing clarification I asked a second time, “Do you mean that every question I’ve ever had about life and the universe I can ask and find answers to right now?” She responded positively again and I was immediately overcome with joy and amazement, the likes of which I’d never felt before in my entire life. At long last, I could find answers.

The feeling stayed with me as I awoke, bringing sensations of weightlessness and a tingling throughout my body and spirit. I endeavored to hang on to all that I had seen and felt knowing how fleeting dreams could be. For me, this was no ordinary dream. It was a gift from God, a glimpse of eternity that he knew I needed to bolster my faith.

The dream ended with us back on that bench outside the bishop’s office without having had an opportunity to ask questions while in the spirit world. Surprisingly, I remember feeling no disappointment after waking at not having asked any of my burning questions. It seemed to be enough that my glimpse of the divine gave me a secure assurance that this life was not the end and that everything I longed to understand would someday be within my grasp.

Consciousness and Spirit

girl reading with stars
Science stills wonders about spirit and consciousness.

Because thought—consciousness and spirituality—has always been the biggest puzzlement to science, it is often explained away as a mere mechanism of the brain. Yet the astounding number of metaphysical experiences such as visions, after-death communications, near-death experiences, and even dreams, reported by individuals across the globe, seems to indicate otherwise.

The very act of dreaming is a testament in and of itself that humans have a spirit distinct from the body. Dreams give us the experience of traveling to other dimensions of time and space, interacting with people in surreal surroundings apart from our physical world while the body lies dormant in bed. As we look at the sensation of dreaming, the conscious seems to separate from the body. Then, when dreams also include departed friends and relatives, one might begin to see the possibility of the soul actually surviving physical death.

The Brain as a Conduit

man sitting on the floor sketching
Can brain activity account for everything we experience in dreams?

Some in science would have us believe that dreams are merely by-products of a partially activated brain during sleep that manufactures bizarre, fleeting images stemming solely from biophysical activity in the brain and body. So they study and experiment using sophisticated neuroimaging devices to record brain activity and interpret what they find. And they know a lot.

Dozens of neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies have conclusively shown that REM [rapid eye movement] sleep, which is most reliably linked with vivid dreams, is associated with a very particular brain activation pattern centered on the amygdala in the limbic system. Portions of the anterior area of the brain are consistently activated during REM sleep while other brain areas and systems are de-activated. The product of this unique design of activations and de-activations in the brain is, inescapably, dreams.

 That’s the purely physical explanation of dreaming, but studies also look at it from other angles. Some research focuses on the biophysiology of dreaming and sleep and what influences these processes, while other research looks into the content of dreams. Experts also look at why we dream and the functions that dreams serve, producing a variety of theories. The more popular theories include to:

  • Restore our body and mind.
  • Help with learning and memory.
  • Keep the brain at the right level of awareness/rest during sleep.
  • Allow the mind to handle disturbances in the night without waking up.
  • Keep our sense of self and wholeness through sleep.
  • Allow ourselves some time to explore new and unusual areas of ourselves.
  • Resolve conflicts which occur during the day.
  • Contextualize emotions from waking.
  • Practice dealing with threats.

So far, there is nothing here to negate what our religion would have us know about dreams as a vehicle for communication with Deity. While the brain creates or facilitates the dreaming process that goes on in the human conscious, it also acts as the conduit for the reception of spiritual messages or messengers. It is once again God using the laws of nature, in this case, brain activity during sleep, to interact with his children.

Dreams Can Connect Us with God

man by a lake reading
Revelatory dreams imprint themselves upon our minds and in our beliefs.

 While revelatory dreams all come from God, often his messages are conveyed through other people. Richard G. Scott, of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said of dreams:

Revelation can also be given in a dream when there is an almost imperceptible transition from sleep to wakefulness. If you strive to capture the content immediately, you can record great detail, but otherwise it fades rapidly. Inspired communication in the night is generally accompanied by a sacred feeling for the entire experience. The Lord uses individuals for whom we have great respect to teach us truths in a dream because we trust them and will listen to their counsel. It is the Lord doing the teaching through the Holy Ghost. However, He may in a dream make it both easier to understand and more likely to touch our hearts by teaching us through someone we love and respect.

For example, Church member Martins Enyiche described in the Ensign how he quit going to Church because of a disagreement with his stake president. After his wife counseled him to pray about it before making such a drastic withdrawal, he took her advice and knelt in prayer. That night, he had a dream in which his grandfather appeared to him and rebuked him for his inability to follow his priesthood leader.

After awaking and not being able to go back to sleep, he spent the night pondering his dream. This prompted him the next day to go to the stake president, apologize, and return to Church activity. He said he felt this experience was in preparation for what happened shortly thereafter. The company for which he worked sent him and his family to live in Nigeria where he was soon called as a branch president.

Visitation dreams, where a departed relative is sent to console a bereaved spouse or to provide a message of some kind, are not uncommon. Renowned dream researcher and educator Patrick McNamara, Ph.D., provided some good information on the common elements of visitation dreams. Among them are the appearance of the deceased as they were in their healthy life rather than when ill. They often appear much younger too.

The deceased reassured the dreamer telepathically or mentally that they were alright and still nearby. Visitation dreams are typically clear, vivid, and intense rather than disorganized or bizarre and are felt to be real visits when the dreamer awakens. The dreamer undergoes a marked change from the experience and describes a wider spiritual perspective and resolution in their grieving.

Another example involves Lynda and her sister who both felt tremendous guilt over not being present when their mother died. Circumstances beyond their control kept them away at that important moment. But a few weeks after her mother’s passing, Lynda had a dream that brought her peace. She saw herself standing behind a railing at the crest of a deep and narrow canyon. Her parents [her dad had died years earlier] were seated together on the patio of a restaurant in Mexico, where they had vacationed years before. When her mother saw her, she smiled and waved. Lynda knew she could not join her parents but was happy to see them together and to know her mother had made the transition okay.

A week later, Lynda discovered that her sister had received the same dream—with one variation. Her sister had scurried back and forth along the railing in an attempt to find a break in it so she could go to her parents. In addition to finding peace through these dreams, the sisters enjoyed a laugh because their mother would often say of Lynda’s sister, “That girl just can’t take no for an answer.”

Dreams can also provide divine warnings or messages that the dreamer needs to make changes in his or her life. Dr. McArthur Hill, a former abortion physician, describes what he called a recurring nightmare that eventually led him to stop doing abortions.

In my nightmares I would deliver a healthy newborn baby and I would hold it up, and I would face a jury of faceless people and ask them to tell me what to do with this baby. They would go thumbs-up or thumbs-down and if they made a thumbs-down indication then I was to drop the baby into a bucket of water which was present. I never did reach the point of dropping the baby into the bucket because I’d always wake up at that point. But it was clear to me that there was something subconsciously going on in my mind.

Dreaming Recorded Anciently

old scriptures with stars
Ancient records speak of revelatory dreams.

Dreaming is one of the basic connectors of spirituality among most world faiths throughout history. For example, dream interpretation is found in the Talmud, a collection of Jewish religious teachings compiled from 200 BC to AD 300; descriptions of dreaming is in the Upanishads, the sacred Hindu texts that reach back to the seventh century BC; it shows up among the writings of tribal shamans among the Diegueno, a Native American people from what is now Southern California; and we find dream analysis in the treatise On Dreams, written by Synesios, a Christian bishop of Ptolemais in the early fifth century AD. It’s also found in the Bible and Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 1:16; 8:2; Isaiah 29:17; Daniel 2; 7; Alma 30:28; Genesis 28:10-22; 1 Kings 3:5, Ether 9:3).

Further examples of dream accounts are found throughout the scriptures. The subject matter of these dreams varies, demonstrating that God will send messages to touch and teach us according to his purposes and according to our needs. Some examples are:

  1. The telling of future events (Genesis 37:5; 40:5, 8; 41:15)
  2. Foretelling the appearance of the Savior (Genesis 28:10-22; 31:24; 1 Kings 3:5; 1 Nephi 2:1-2; 3:2)
  3. Ministering of angels to the faithful (Genesis 31:11; Matthew 1:20; 2:13, 19)
  4. Prophetic warnings (Ether 9:3)
  5. The teaching of truth through symbolism (1 Nephi 8; 9; 10; 15:21)

These scriptural accounts, along with all other revelatory dreams received by people every day, are testaments to a God who communicates to his mortal children. They serve as evidence that our brains were designed to be channels of Godly communication and that our conscious selves are capable of transcending the physical. Dreams, like other forms of communication beyond this mortal veil, are further evidence of God.