“Thus saith the Lord.”
When Nwaka mentioned science in his article, it was majorly about finding a scientific explanation for dreams rather than believing that dreams are medium by which God communicates to us. So, what’s the biblical explanation of dreams (and visions)?
In Numbers 12:6, God states specifically that he reveals himself to his prophets through dreams and visions. He contrasted this mode of revelation to his face to face interaction with Moses. Dreams and visions are means through which God reveals himself to those he calls into the prophetic office.
God also reveals himself to other people through dreams. He gave messages to Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh, the butler, and baker through dreams. In these examples, God revealed himself to unbelievers through dreams so that they can know that there is a God who rules in the heavens. These dreams had a specific purpose – to accomplish God’s plans in redemptive history. The dream of the butler and baker was God’s means of bringing Joseph to the palace. The dream of Pharaoh was God’s means of bringing Joseph to an important office in Egypt to accomplish his purpose to “preserve for you (Israelites) a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” (Genesis 45:7) The dreams of Pharaoh were essential to God’s purpose of constituting a people for himself.
The same applies to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s interpretation of his dreams was part of God’s means of bringing Daniel to prominence in the land and emphasizing the permanency of God’s kingdom in contrast to the temporariness of human kingdoms.
My point here is that while God revealed himself through dreams and visions, the revelation had a specific purpose. It was not the case that every member of the Jewish community (or Egyptian or Babylonian) was having dreams and visions. Instead, they served as God’s standard ways of revealing himself to his prophets and as means he employs for redemptive-historical purposes.
God’s Revelation in Christ
When Christ came, there was a remarkable change in the way God revealed himself. The writer of Hebrews stated it in a summary fashion, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. “ (Hebrews 1:1-2).
The Son is the clearest revelation of God given to humanity. In the Son, we see the radiance of God’s glory. However, Jesus did not stay on this earth forever to provide us with this fullest revelation of God. After his death, he resurrected and ascended into heaven. Nevertheless, he commissioned his apostles to be the witness to his coming, his messiahship, the salvation he has wrought, and his coming again. (Acts 1:8). He chose men who were with him from the beginning of his ministry to the end (Acts 1:21-22) and saw him after his resurrection. These men are the apostles. It was through them that the revelation of Christ , the radiance of God’s glory (the fullest revelation of God) will be given to the world.
These men had the promise of Jesus that the Spirit will come to remind them of all things and to teach them all things (John 14:26). The apostolic tradition developed in the early church – the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This apostolic witness was commissioned to other men who will faithfully teach and preach it to the church (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
Because of their appointment as the witnesses of Christ, the writings and teachings of the apostles (or people closely related to them in their ministry) became authoritative for the church. Peter referred to Paul’s letter as scriptures (2 Peter 3:15-16). Paul wrote his letters to the church with authority (1 Corinthians 14:37), and he was happy the church in Thessalonica took his writings as they were- the word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
The greatest revelation of God is in Christ, and through the apostolic witness (the New Testament) to Christ, we come to know Christ, and by knowing Christ, we know God fully.
Also, the Old Testament witness to Christ. Christ told the Pharisees, “You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39). In Luke, he made the same point when “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
How do we know God? It is in Christ that God is fully revealed. How do we know Christ? We read about him in a prophetic form in the Old Testament. We read about him in fulfillment form in the New Testament. The Old Testament and New Testament together reveal Christ- the perfect revelation of God. How do we come to know God today? It is through faithful reading, studying, and preaching of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Everything God has to say to us he has said in Christ and everything about Christ that we need to know is in the Scriptures.
In the New Testament, the focus of the people of God is the faithful preaching of the scriptures. That is why there is a huge emphasis on the role of preaching in the church. One of the qualifications of appointing someone as an elder in the church is that he can teach and preach the word of God (1 Timothy 3:2). Related to that is that the elder must hold to sound doctrines and be able to refute those who oppose sound doctrine. (Titus 1:9) This latter point was also the emphasis in Paul’s meeting with the Ephesian elders. (Acts 20:28-30). In the pastoral letters (I Timothy, II Timothy, and Titus), Paul emphasized the importance of teaching over again.
The scriptures are how God has revealed himself to us. Everything we need to know about God is there in the scriptures. Our endless pursuit of dreams and visions betrays our misunderstanding of the nature of God’s revelation. Dreams and visions are the means God communicated with the prophets. However, now, we have Christ, the fullest revelation of God (Hebrews 1:1-2), and we have him fully revealed in the old and new testament scriptures (the completed canon).
There is no “thus saith the Lord” in this post-apostolic age apart from the Scriptures. The only time anyone can put Thus Saith the Lord before their words is if they are quoting scriptures. Christ has been fully and perfectly revealed in the Old and New Testament scriptures. That revelation is final and complete. We need no dreams and visions to supplement it. Rather, like Timothy, we are to study the scriptures to show ourselves approved as workmen who don’t need to be ashamed but can correctly handle the word of truth. If we want to know God, let’s stick to the Scriptures.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
How does God guide us today in our daily life?
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul informs us that we are God’s workmanship, and he guides us into good works that he prepared for us in advance. In 2 Timothy 3:17, he informs us that the scriptures are enough to guide us into every good work. It is through the scriptures that God guides us into every good work.
David, who only had a portion of scriptures compared to what we have today, said that the word of God is a “lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105). The word of God directs his feet and guides his path. If we want to know the will of God in every circumstance, it is to the word of God we go. Yes, the Spirit of God guides us. However, the Spirit of God does not guide us apart from the word. Rather, as Jesus told the disciples, the Spirit comes to remind them of the things he taught them. The Spirit of God is not a subjective voice in our minds. The spirit of God is the third person of the trinity who leads us to the Scriptures, helps us to know the mind of God in the scriptures, and guides our minds and hearts as we apply the Scriptures to every situation of life (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9). He glorifies Christ by taking what is his and revealing it to us (John 16:14). The Spirit works in harmony with Christ- the word.
God never calls his people to wait on dreams and visions before they make decisions. Granted, there are some personal decisions we take in life that there is no “Thus Saith the Lord” in Scriptures regarding those matters. The Scriptures do not directly tell us who to marry or what job to take. However, the Spirit of God directs us to Scriptures, where we get divine wisdom to make such decisions. This is one reason why God gave us the book of Proverbs. But the proverbs are not the only repository of wisdom for practical Christian living. The whole of scriptures contains wisdom to which the Spirit directs us. The wisdom we get from scriptures helps us to make decisions where there is no specific directive. The bible might not tell John if he is to Marry Tope, Bolu, or Seun, but the bible tells believers not to marry unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). It also informs us what a virtuous woman looks like (Proverbs 31) and gives a litany of examples of virtuous women (and the opposite). Through the scriptures, we get the wisdom we need for daily living.
Dreams are part of the natural process of human life. There is nothing supernatural in dreams (in the sense that God is giving you a revelation through the dream). They are often a reflection of our environment, aspirations, and fascinations. However, God did use them as a means of revelation in various times in redemptive history (majorly through the prophets: it was not that every Tom, Dick, and Harry had revelation through dreams or visions). Now, we have the full revelation of God in Christ through the scriptures, and he guides us through his word. In this post-apostolic period where the canon of scripture is complete, the only “Thus saith the Lord” is the scriptures.
Just Do Something
Therefore, when we make decisions and navigate through life as believers, we don’t wait for dreams, visions, some voices, or a pillar of cloud. Rather, we are to gain wisdom from the scriptures and make a decision.
Delaying decisions because we want to hear “God’s voice” might sound pious, but it is only pietistic. God has already spoken completely in his word. Instead of spending time in perpetual isolation waiting for God’s voice on whom to marry or what job to take, take the scriptures, gain biblical wisdom, and “just do something” (the title of a book by Kevin De Young). Don’t cripple yourself waiting for dreams or visions or some supernatural manifestations. Just do something.
Even Paul, an apostle, did not live as many of us do today. Paul will lay out his ministerial plan before the church and ask for their prayers. There are times he plans to visit a Church, and the plan does not materialize (1 Thessalonians 2:17, 18). He had to change his plans (2 Corinthians 2:15-17). If Paul were always hearing from God or having dreams and visions about every missionary journey, there would not be 1 Thessalonians 2:17, 18 nor 2 Corinthians 2:15-17. There are times he wished to visit a church but cannot fit it into his schedule. He does not tell the Romans that he will certainly come to them but that he prays that God will make a way. (Romans 1:10) Paul was not always waiting for the Holy Spirit to speak into his ears where he should go. Of course, because Paul was an apostle (and there were only thirteen of them), God sometimes gave him visions and dreams to guide his missionary journey because the mission work of Paul was a significant part of redemptive history. (Acts 16:6-10). However, even for an apostle living in the apostolic period, these dreams and visions were not there every time. Like Paul, God guides us all by his providence. We make plans and take decisions by applying all the godly wisdom in the Scriptures, and we surrender our plans and decisions to God’s sovereignty (James 4:13-17). “There are many plans in a person’s mind, but it is the counsel of the Lord which will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)
God’s usual mode of speaking to us today is the Spirit through the word. Your dreams are part of the natural process, and you should not attach too much importance to them. They are just dreams. If you want to start a business, read the scriptures to know God’s will of command (e.g., false weight and measures) gain biblical wisdom related to starting and running a business. This is how God works with us. The pietism of today that wants to hear an audible voice before deciding to go to the shower, cross the road, board a bus, or marry your sweetheart is not biblical spirituality. Yes, sometimes, we have a deep impression/conviction in our minds to do certain things. If that thing is godly, do it. However, do not put a “Thus Saith the Lord” before it. Some of these impressions and convictions are the work of the Spirit laying the word of God we have read/heard deep in our heart. Nevertheless, we must be cautious of saying God has spoken when he has not spoken.
Let’s stop living in paralyzing fear and some esoteric spiritual experience. Through the Spirit working through the scriptures, we discern the will of God, our minds are renewed, and we experience transformation. It is through the Scriptures that God guides us into every good work.
Nwaka’s discovery that dreams are natural and that there are scientific explanations behind dreams can only be a problem when we do not understand what the bible teaches about how God reveals himself. God did reveal himself to prophets through dreams and visions, and he did it to some others in certain circumstances with redemptive-historical significance. However, God speaks to us today in the post-apostolic age through the inscripturated words as the Spirit teaches, reminds, and impresses them on our minds.