Is Dream Interpretation Ok?

My Connection To Dreams

Over the years I’ve held mixed feelings about dreaming, at times relishing it and at times detesting it.

When I think of dreams that I can still actively remember throughout my life, they tend to be negative or traumatic. Some are legitimate nightmares, others are rather despondent and disheartening.

Nonetheless, in much of my young life, I longed to dream. I wanted to dream every night, though the science would really say I wanted to remember them instead of having them (we often dream without recollection). This may seem odd as the dreams that stand out were never particularly inspiring or pleasant. Nonetheless, I was wishful for a pleasant escape from reality, a taste of surreal entertainment. I think in part I was also looking for something revelatory, something that might speak an important message of my world, myself, etc.

In my teenage and college years I began to develop some resentment towards dreams as they spurred me with false pleasantries and disturbing images. I’d grow frustrated either from what I’d wake up without or perturbed to have been subject to horrific nightmares that would haunt me throughout the day. My interest in remembering my dreams died out for a time.

Upon my approach to seminary, my interest peaked once more in dreams. I’ve tried taking their meaning with a grain of salt, though I couldn’t–and still can’t–help but wonder if there’s some utility in them. I’ve found it’s safer to consult others when it comes to our dreams as the messages can sometimes deceive us. We should be careful when attributing a source to our dreams lest we be mislead that God is telling us something that may not come from Him. Though I think there’s precedent to believe God can use and speak through our dreams, I would caution anyone who reads this to not self-assume the role of a prophet when examining their own dreams, but rather become curious as to what implications the dream has for the individual’s own soul and personal development.

Scriptural Precedent for Dream Interpretation

Scripture certainly affirms a utility in dream interpretation. That being said, the dream interpretation we see in the Old Testament have a lot more to do with prophecy than that of personal revelation.

Joseph and Daniel are the big figures of dream interpretation we see the in the Bible, and the circumstances of their dream interpretation follow closely together. Joseph and Daniel’s dream interpretation came with a risk should their interpretation prove wrong. Their interpretation was used on behalf of pagan tyrants, typically to warn of some gruesome fate that was to befall their empire. The dream interpretation seems to have led such leaders in a state of humility (temporarily at least). And most importantly, the dream interpretation of both these figures was done by consulting God in prayer.

We also read in the Book of Joel, echoed in the Acts of the Apostles, of prophecy being something to be expected of the elderly, that they will dream dreams (in addition to the youth prophecying). This detail seems to affirm a utility in dreams, that the old men will discern important themes and wisdom much like the youth on behalf of God’s glory.

Keeping in mind this Scriptural precedent, I find it important we use the aforementioned criteria in dream interpretation so that we become not misguided or deceived. Dream interpretation should always lead to the glory of God and its pursuit and end goal ought to be done with humility. 

How I see dream interpretation acting towards the glory of God is when we look into the themes of our dreams and how they might communicate growing edges of ourselves, or insight us to work on something, specifically to work towards something we are neglecting.

Secular Precedent and Application of Dream Interpretation

Dr. Jordan Peterson in his lectures talks at great length about dream analysis, and shared in one instance how dream analysis helped his client in a psychotherapy session confront a fear of death she had. Dreams may not always seem straightforward in what they are communicating to us to address, but in that instance it seems the dream was quite explicit about the need of the individual in conquering a fear. When we are awake, our body and mind are quite adverse to approaching things that we hold staunch phobias or trauma over. I believe that a wandering mind without inhibitions or distractions (ie, our minds in this dream state) boldly ventures to our fears, our shame, our concerns either through the explicit image of what we need to confront or by veiling it in a symbol of something we can more properly digest or encounter.

Peterson has also likened daydreaming and the act of thinking as the projection of an avatar, the imaginary insertion of ourselves into a circumstance that has not occurred that we nonetheless expect may happen or fear may happen. A concrete and positive example of this is thinking of hypothetical situations for emergencies, such as checklists and step-by-steps of fires, natural disaster, etc; though we don’t typically dream about such complicated issues, we nonetheless “daydream” or think out loud, and these become strategic dreams. Less useful instances of this is when we walk away from an argument and think up what we could have said or done differently. 

I mention these forms of “daydreaming” to show how our minds see a utility in reflecting on the past and thinking on the future. Our wakeful mind sees utility in these thoughts. Nevertheless we ought to be discerning of our thoughts, examine their source and intention, weighing whether or not they are for our betterment and God’s glory or if they will only lead to distress and sin. In the same way we see utility and potential for distress or distraction in daydreaming, we can see our dreams at night as both a utility but also as a hazard that should be handled with great care. But even the hazardous nightmares that unnerve our peace and cause us to fret can still tell us something important about our attention and concerns when we are awake.

Dream interpretation leans heavily on symbols, of interpreting what an image is standing in for. A father may not necessarily be your mind telling you about your actual dad, but using the facade of your dad to articulate something more complex. Abstract thought is not a feat we humans gain early according to Piaget’s theory of stages of development, and so it is not so obvious that our thoughts have to do with lists and math but rather deal in images that stand in the place for more complicated themes and ideas. But it is truly wondrous how quickly children pick up on symbols, doing so not merely in language but through their imagination and using toys, shapes, etc to manifest invisible themes and realities. 

Dream Interpretation For Self-Improvement

While we have mentioned that God has used dreams for His divine purposes, again, I believe we should take caution in assuming the dreams we have possess a prophetic purpose. It’s safer for us to be discerning and mistrustful of visions lest we be deceived by something spiritual that is counter to the divine (demonic). Included in this, I believe we also should be cautious of actively seeking out dreams and especially careful to avoid dream manipulation. Actively seeking out such experiences seems reminiscent to me of Adam & Eve’s desire to have secret knowledge they weren’t ready for, something ultimately distracting them from God’s revelation to us. It is better for us to seek out God’s revelation and ask for His protection at night, and what dreams may come let them be.

That being said, the themes of the dreams we have will undoubtedly tell us things about ourselves. Even in the Ladder of Divine Ascent a monk describes the dream of flight having to relate to the sin of pride we can suffer from. It is more likely that our dreams–both good dreams and bad dreams–will tell us something we need to work on rather than provide us some sense of intuition or privileged wisdom. We can think of it as a subtle friend who is talking about something indirectly as that we can digest the hard message they are trying to get across to us, that we need to be mindful of our attachments, of our neuroticisms, to pay attention to the passions and fears that we are absorbed by.

In all things, we ought to bless and hand over that which we engage in. If our intent is to look at our dreams as opportunities to lead us to sainthood, to perfecting our souls that we may have a more open relationship with God, then we have baptized the utility of the dream. The danger of dreams can be neutralized when we take a pulse of our ego that it may not inflate and when we ask God to bless our discernment. More importantly, should we pray before drifting off to sleep for protection we can hope for a night free of misleading dreams and to hand all our pursuit of wisdom into God’s hands.

Are Dream Symbols Universal?

There seems to be some suspicion of “dream interpretations” due to seemingly arbitrary “handbooks” on what specific images relate to specific concepts/themes. From what I’ve seen, a lot of online dream “handbooks” seem to borrow from Frued and Jung’s school of dream interpretation which also deals with objective themes and archetypes common to all humanity and culture. To those who have put forth the effort and study into the field, I think at least credence should be given to their input.

That being said, I’ve heard compelling arguments that some of these themes may be mere extrapolation, or that some images may represent different themes based on individual and 

cultural contexts; ie, dreaming of a cow in a Western farming context might have more to do with livelihood whereas dreaming of a cow in India may have something to do with the sacred, or dreaming of a father for most might be a symbol of tradition and order whereas someone with an abusive father may see said image as a symbol of tyranny or a looming threat.

Again, this is why dream interpretation is best paired with discernment and prayer that any possibility of subjectivity can be sorted out with true humility and wisdom.

That being said, I think a strong case can be made for universal symbols considering how certain images seem to mean the same thing to all of us regardless of culture and context. An egg, for example, always infers new life and snakes–even in cultures that have divine snakes–represent danger given the deep human fear built into us of snakes. Pyramids and Zigarauts across cultures are representations of humanity’s attempt to ascend and the divine nature we ascribe to mountains, and even within cultures that find their livelihood through the ocean still face the common threats of the ocean that we all see: storms, sea beasts, drawing.

I would argue symbols diverging in their meaning is more of an exception than a rule, that our minds and psyche are all inclined towards finding the same meaning in the symbols we see and dream of despite our culture and upbringing. 

My Intention of Dream Interpretation

My goal in this series is to place my own dreams under a public microscope. I’ll be writing out with as much detail as I am able some dreams that have stuck with me that I believe are significant to my own life. I plan to also include dreams others have shared with me, though safeguarding those individuals’ identities as I speak about them.

My hope is that some of these dreams resonate with you, that the symbols manifest within them have an application for my readers for everyone’s edification.

I also hope to example healthy dream interpretation, explore images and themes that might be common to others.

I am open to others commenting and sharing their dreams in this series. This is a public laboratory that I hope we all learn from one another on.

Again, all this I hope is done with utmost discernment and humility, and I hope through this series we can begin to see–especially for those of us who have developed a resentment for dreams–a utility that these dreams have, and what our souls may be begging us to address in our wakeful lives.

So let us humbly and carefully listen to our souls, all for God’s glory.

Christian Fiction and Explicit Content-Swearing, Sex, and Violence

King David's Letter to Uriah

A personal struggle I have is enjoying a dark and edgy genre while staying true to the grit, all the while operating from a Christian background.

Is it ok to swear in your book?

Is it ok to talk about or depict sexual content in your book?

Is violence or gore appropriate for my book?

This is at least the tension I feel as a Christian writer who is struggling to find the middle ground between perverse R or M rated content while still wanting to be taken more serious than a PG read.

Not to be overly critical of my Protestant friends in storytelling, but sometimes I find movies and literature appearing noticeably tame and heavy-handed. This isn’t meant to be a scathing criticism, especially if your aim is to produce literature for a targeted Christian audience.

Though I do wonder who we might be missing if we shoe hole ourselves too tightly into a puritan mode of storytelling. I see literature as having a potentiality towards evangelism, but in order to have our art reach an audience outside of our own, I think it important to give some consideration to the zeitgeist, or at least to see how our art will compete with what is popular and celebrated.

That being said, forsaking all our integrity and prudence for the sake of being “in” or trendy isn’t the answer either. I’ve noticed media nowadays having a kind of “quota” of violence, obscenity, and nudity needed in order for it to compete with the market, and I think we don’t want to fall into that category of media that uses swears to show we are edgy or shows a nipple so that our male audience sees the whole piece through.

So where is the line?

The problem is that I think the line doesn’t exist, or at least this is the case for literature. I think most of us have a kind of moral compass to discern when a show depicts sex in such a way that it becomes borderline pornography and when a show uses gore to such an extent that it just seems flashy and grotesque without adding any substance. The “we know it when we see it” rule seems to apply here, and that then might just mean we need a second set of eyes and ears that we can trust to offer a Christian perspective to what we have written as far as it being too much or too tame.

That being said, I think a golden rule to this end is to see the explicit content as a necessary means rather than something off the spice rack that we use to sprinkle in to add some flavor. I don’t believe adding explicit content is absolutely necessary to reach an adult audience, and I’d like to site how wide an age range Tolkein and Rowling have reached without embellishing at all in this regard. That being said, the aforementioned authors protect themselves from this through operating in a fantasy genre that can contain its own culture and flare by merit of its genre, whereas a Christian crime novel might have some inescapable wrestlings with explicit material.

Again, I do think if we keep our attention mostly on the story and symbols within it rather than becoming far too wrapped up in imagery and realism that we will not only find ourselves staying true to our integrity, but also will not bring much attention to a writing that is tame on such content. A good story should be able to stand alone without a viscerally immersive story that puts you into the heat, the sweat, the messiness of this adult content.

The last piece of advice I can offer, is that if we are truly Christian authors, we might want to consider making God part of our writing. I admit, sometimes I felt strange about God blessing my writing knowing full well that the content was dark. But perhaps He will still grant us that blessing if our intention is to speak something true or good in the end. Perhaps He will steer us from the “too much” lane and be with us in the writing process even when it gets bumpy, not unlike our own real lives that tend to be imperfect but still lived with good intentions.

That all being said, I would like to offer some “guidelines” or considerations on the topic of explicit content.

Vulgarity-know your limits

What I’ve recently done in my work in progress is searched the document and kept tally of individual curses/swears I’ve used.

I do this, because not too long ago, I remember there was a “quota” in Hollywood that would deem a movie rated “R” based on its frequency of the usage of certain swears. Some swears, it seems, grant a movie an immediate “R” rating, whereas other films have a threshold of how many times more “tame” vulgarity can be used before it gets to that point.

The last I checked, it also seems Hollywood ranks vulgarity based on the swear word’s content. Words that have had a longer history in the English language in regards to referring to let’s say “common” things (hell being a place of perdition, bitch being a female dog) even if they are used in a diminutive manner don’t necessarily make a movie rated R. What words DO seem to take that effect is anything that is sexually explicit, inferring sexual acts or sexual body parts (your f bombs and so forth).

I think imagining your book in terms of rating is a helpful guideline. If anything else, it keeps a guard rail up from allowing your imagination from going wild. Besides, if you have any thoughts of your book becoming a film adaptation, it might be helpful to already start thinking about the boundaries you have with your language.

What I would also like to offer in this approach is by setting some personal boundaries for yourself in terms of frequency and for words themselves. If your novel is 300 pages, can you set a 3 word limit for each swear (not 3 total swears, but 3 damns, 3 hells, etc)? What about just saying no to certain words? Can you grow comfortable in putting a fence around some words you know are just a bit excessive when all you really need to convey is a crass character or a heated argument?

How many shades of anger will we really miss if our “what the f___” becomes a “what the hell?”

Sex-Consider the collateral

I specifically mention “collateral” because I think this is the real concern of adding sexual content in any form of literature, whether it is in book or video form.

Of all the explicit content in fiction that we see, the depiction of sex is the most harmful as it can actually stir up action. While listening to the Boondock Saints MIGHT instill in us a looseness about our tongues or scar us with their string of cusses, and while some gruesome horror films might scar and haunt us in their depiction through cruelty and visceral detail, sex and nudity can become a gateway for the viewer towards objectifying not merely the characters/actors, but those around them, and spiral into far more crippling habits.

A rule I try to imagine for myself–again imagining a literary piece ever picked up and then adapted later–is, “if this ever becomes a film/show, what risk do I have of nudity being portrayed” or “what if a loved one were to star in this role?”

How we can desire to protect our loved ones from exposing themselves through the appetitive/predatory clutches of Hollywood and not mind celebrities to engage in this practice is confounding…but it might do us all some good if we actually lamented for these famous figures when they have been demeaned to not merely share something intimate to the entire world, but to engage in something dehumanizing as filmed sex (fake or not).

It may not seem as though there’s much wiggle room on this particular one for the aforementioned reasons. That being said, if we look at Scripture, we know that the Bible is not without some uncomfortable stories of sex. That being said, I don’t personally read David watching Bathsheba and feel my passions stoked from this story. The contrary to this, however, might be the Song of Songs which does have a bit more colorful language regarding passionate love language.

To this end, I recommend reading some of these stories in the Bible and considering when detail is modestly left out, even though a very perverse thing is inferred. A great cinematic example of this is Casa Blanca, a film that infers a sexual relationship but to its time depicts such an altercation through two censored adults in bed smoking. Inference can be our best friend.

To close, as mentioned in vulgarity, I think intention is important to discern with this content as well. Does every romantic couple in our book require an erotic scene? Do we feel pressured to hit a quote for sexual content? Is our temptress character cleverly portrayed in their role or are we taking a more crass and easy option to depict them with such colorful and racy words?

Violence-let the reader fill in the color

This is perhaps the most difficult topic to write, namely because the piece I find myself working on seems to really teeter on the topic of “what’s too much violence”. The other issue to this is if you ar reading this blog, chances are your dark, Christian work could survive without any vulgarity, without any sexual content, but perhaps not so with violence.

Violence is conflict, and conflict is needed in our stories. Violence is our dial to intensify the conflict, to make our audience feel peril and worry for our characters, to give them the full scope of the intensity of the battle. Violence is perhaps the most tolerated of explicit content, perhaps because we are so familiar with it, or perhaps because there seems to be no fine line with “what’s too much”. As mentioned before, vulgarity seems easy enough to quantify and categorize, and so too with nudity (what parts are shown, how often, etc). But what’s “too much” violence? Blood? Decapitation? A gunshot wound? A knife wound? An autopsy? A car accident?

Scripture perhaps does not make this dilemma much simpler. The psalms speak often about festering flesh, shattered teeth, and broken bones. We read in the story of David how he cut off the foreskins of the Philistines and then one of the most popular figures of the New Testament, John the Baptist, is beheaded. The stories of the saints is even more problematic as we read about skin being flayed, bodies being twisted, flesh being burned, and the most horrible executions and tortures imagined…

Even if we were to say we ought to be careful to not put a microsope on the violence itself–to perhaps say the overarching even of violence rather than to get pixel-by-pixel on the blood and guts–we will find ourselves in a difficult circumstance as we find ourselves writing about torture not unlike the saints writings. Details–physical details especially–will evoke emotion from our readers, and so deferring to vagueness seems to not give enough room in this regard.

That being said, if our whole book is nothing but gore and guts, I think we ought to wonder what the impact of the 11th occurrence of it will be versus the 3rd. Scaling back the details at least so that only a few moments are really punctuated with detail might not only help us discern what is too much gore and violence, but also help us consider how to pull our punches so that we save our biggest knockouts for when they matter.

It’s not a perfect solution, but I find the topic of violence one that will require a great deal of more discernment rather than clear boundaries as this kind of content itself seems to be difficult to categorize and know exactly when it is too much.

in summary…

I empathize with the struggle between the integrity of faith and imagination, the slider scale of modesty and flare. Perhaps you have already made up your mind on the subject and have found peace on the particular rules you have set for yourself, but for those of you who are toting the line, I think the best thing you can do is to set up some rules, see how they work, and above all: pray.

Though I don’t want to speak theologically out of turn, I think our imagination does come from something invisible, something possibly invisible and hopefully good/holy. That may not always be the case. To this end, be discerning with your thoughts and pray for some clarity. I do think God puts good ideas into our head, but that doesn’t mean the enemy isn’t looking to corrupt our imagination as well.

Be watchful about these thoughts, set some rules, consecrate your work, as for God’s mercy and grace for your shortcomings and inspiration to keep writing.

Happy Writing!