Keeping in Touch

by Elder M. Lindahl

Dreams have always played an important role in human existence. Through the ages people have thought of them as bridges to the supernatural world, avenues through which God’s will and wisdom were given. Various channels to keep in touch with the Eternal world—Scripture, prayer, visions, and prophetic oracles—are used; but for some, dreams are thought of as special ways God communicates.

In my early years, I had confidence that dreams provided Divine guidance, that they predicted how certain events would happen in the future. This seemed to work for things both large and small. For example, one night I dreamed I was shopping at Larson’s Grocery on Fourth Avenue in Iron River. In my dream, I happened to look at a punchboard on the counter and noticed the various prizes lucky people could win. I turned the punchboard around and was able to see very clearly the exact spot to punch for the first prize—a two-or-three-pound box of chocolates. I awoke excitedly and asked my mother, a staunch opponent of gambling in any form, for money to buy a chance. I explained to her that in my dream I saw through the paper covering the back of the punchboard and that I now had a clear picture of the winning spot. “Just 5¢,” I pleaded, “please, I know for sure, it’s not a gamble!” Nickle in hand, I ran to the grocery, and with no hesitation inserted the punch at the exact hot spot I had seen in my dream. Mr. Larson unfolded the small, accordion-like, crinkled paper, checked the number, extended his congratulations and handed me the huge box of chocolates. Coincidence? No way!

Reinforcement of the predictive character of dreams occurred also in Church and Sunday School. We heard often how God revealed the future through dreams. I marveled how Joseph, in Genesis 37-42, was enabled through the wisdom of God to predict years of agricultural abundance and famine, vocational success and failures, respectively, for the chief baker and the chief butler, and the specific course of coming events. I heard too, of another Joseph in Matthew 2:20-21, who, when he finds that his fiancée Mary is going to have a baby, is told by the Angel Gabriel in a dream not to be afraid. ‘‘That which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” It was clear to me that God used dreams to let humans know how the supernatural world relates to coming economic, political, social, and personal events in the natural worlds of both ancient and modem peoples.

An important modification in my interpretation of dreams as points of contact between the natural and the supernatural worlds came to me in Germany in 1945 while I was in the service. I dreamed one night that I was in a tailor shop, having corporal stripes and other patches sewn on my Eisenhower jacket. The tailor was “all thumbs.” It was both funny and frustrating; even by the time I awakened, he was still trying to get the stripes and patches on right.

The next day, I did what we had often done in my parental home, I retold the dream story as though it were a bizarre, confused, humorous, possibly predictive episode I had experienced during the night. The reaction of my good army buddy, Art Marcin, a fireman draftee from New York City, shocked me. Drawing on a college psychology course, he gave quite a different interpretation of the dynamics of what was really going on in my wishful psyche. Dreams, he quoted Freud, are the royal road to the unconscious. They do not predict the future, rather they disclose the real self and the wishes of the dreamer. His words stopped me dead in my tracks. I was amazed, shocked, disappointed, and enlightened by the evident truth of Art’s naturalistic explanation. Finding out that dreams represent the fulfillments of wishes was a blow to me personally and theologically.

We all have had some such shattering experiences, I’m sure. And Christians react to belief—shockers—whether it’s the matter of dream interpretation, miracles, Biblical criticism, evolution, New Age, or whatever—in various ways.

In an essay, “The Fixation of Belief,” the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (pronounced “purse”) (1839-1914) contends that there are four ways people tend to establish their ultimate beliefs in the face of jolts and shocks. The method of tenacity is simply holding on stubbornly to what one has always believed, giving no serious thought to resolving the conflicts. “I shall not be moved!” The method of authority, again a thoughtless option, faces new doubts by aligning one’s personal beliefs with those held by ecclesiastical or national or parental authorities. Here one relies on others—pastors, priests, and rabbis, especially—to settle one’s doubts and find one’s true beliefs. It is a common method used by dependent people. “We shall not be moved!” The a priori method, a third option, gives collective thinking a central place. One attempts to find eternal forms, universal principles, first truths, and reasonable propositions to support and peg cherished beliefs on through rational discussion. Although each of these, according to Peirce, has merit, the fourth and last, the method of scientific investigation, faces shocks and challenges in the most satisfactory way. Here we investigate honestly the truth and soundness of the positions we presently hold. As finite beings, we know that our beliefs are always open to test and revision. Challenges to faith can result in growth and firm beliefs when they are dealt with openly and thoughtfully.

A Swedish immigrant, Professor John Elof Boodin (1869–1950) also stresses the importance of thinking through one’s personal beliefs:

It is indeed a brave and risky thing to think. But it is a riskier thing to live in slavish dependence upon other people’s thoughts. For thus we miss the divine privilege of being a man. If we are sincere, we shall learn by our mistakes, as the child learns to walk by falling. And inspiring us, guiding us through the ages, is the incarnate wisdom of God. . . The process of education is a process of disillusion. Things are not what we thought. We are not what we thought. The values of life change with the journey. . . Life is always forward looking. . . “We are more than we are.” (Religion For Tomorrow, 1943, pp. 99, 158-159.)

The nonpredictive interpretation of dreams given by modem psychoanalysts stands in sharp contrast to the Biblical viewpoint of dreams as Divine communication, as predictions about the future. Bible-centered people are faced with the 6 serious problem of how to understand these two viewpoints in one coherent system. Though Pietists stress the experienced Christian life over and above theological systems, the challenge for us remains. Personally, I find that reading the psychologists of religion is profitable in working with the tension that exists between the two viewpoints. How do you relate the two in your thinking?

As a start on this larger issue, I agree with Freud that dreams are produced by human agents. Dreaming has a positive value in that it enables us to keep in touch with our own inner selves. Freud makes much of the fixed sexual meanings in the form of dreams, while C. G. Jung (1875-1961) stresses the collective archetypes which dreams exhibit. Though I recognize the importance of their basic insights, I believe they overemphasize, in different ways, the form of dream scenes. In contrast to both on this point, I argue that the content—the general message and the relationships involved in dream scenes—is more significant than the form or symbolism.

Sensitivity to the messages that our unconscious selves direct to our conscious selves, while the rational censor “sleeps,” can be a basis for self-help therapy. Recurring dream situations and themes provide some profound insights into the emotional problems, struggles, and conflicts we are experiencing in daily life. Freud called dreams “royal roads” because they provide us with the most uncensored, faithful portrait of our basic inner conflicts. Once we become aware of these conflicts, we can ourselves or with some professional help, face and work through them. The human dream mechanism is, I think, one of the marvelous ways God provides for the development and fulfillment of His children. Keeping in touch with ourselves through our dreams can help us become better than we are.