Why are dreams so hard to understand?
Why doesn’t God speak more plainly?
If these are your questions, you are not alone! In this article we will explore four reasons why God uses symbolism to speak to us – with biblical examples.
I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective. My belief is that our dreams can come from God, and understanding them is best understood within the context of an ongoing relationship with Him.
Why does God seem so cryptic?
I am a member of various dream groups, and there is a question that comes up again and again: Why does God speak in symbolic language, rather than speaking plainly so I can easily understand?
This is a great question, and one I have often asked myself.
It is often used as a reason to not pursue dream interpretation; it’s offensive to our thinking. Surely, we reason, if God wanted to tell us something He would speak clearly? But the evidence from experience is – He doesn’t!
This question is often used as a reason not to pursue dream interpretation.
I don’t have the ‘ultimate answer’ to this question, and I frequently wish God spoke more clearly to me (I wrote a poem about it in Dreaming of another life and explored more in The naked truth about dream interpretation). And I have thought about it a lot.
Symbolism is how God speaks!
The first thing to note is that symbolism is how God has always spoken.
We might fight against it and get offended, but we cannot change it. The evidence is there: God loves speaking though symbolic language.
The bible is full of symbolism
The bible is bursting full of symbolic language. In my article – Understand your dreams: A bible-based intorduction to dream language – I give lots of examples. If you read the bible regularly your brain will already be used to that language – but you may not have thought about it or realised what it is.
There are many examples in the old testament prophets and poetic literature.
- Psalm 78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will tell riddles of old…
- Hosea 12:10 And through the prophets I spoke in parables.
For example: Most of us love Psalm 23 which starts with ‘The Lord is my shepherd.’ We all know that it is not literal: We are not literal sheep, and God is not a man hanging out in a nearby field. We instinctively know what it means.
Like it or not, we must embrace symbols and illustrations if we want to understand what God is saying.
Dreams are like night parables
Dreams are like parables: They are short stories and illustrations that God uses to speak to us. Therefore, if we understand why Jesus spoke in parables, we can understand why God speaks in dreams.
If we understand why Jesus spoke in parables, we can understand why God speaks symbolically in dreams.
It seems that Jesus mostly used symbolic language and stories. The gospels tell us that to most of the people he only spoke in parables. This is quite a statement!
- Matthew 13:3, NASB And He told them many things in parables…
- Matthew 13:34, NASB All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak anything to them without a parable.
FOUR REASONS WHY GOD SPEAKS IN PARABLES
Putting my experience of dreams together with the biblical example of Jesus’ parables, I have identified four good reasons why God speaks in this way:
1. Parables draw the spiritually hungry
The thing about parables is that you don’t understand them at first. It takes a combination of searching, hunger, and perseverance to figure them out. There is a sense of a separating process taking place between those who want more and those who don’t.
- John 7:37, NASB Jesus…cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.
- Proverbs 25:2, NASB It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
In Jesus’ day, those who were hungry to understand would mentally store up the parables, think about them, and not give up until they understood the message that Jesus wanted to convey. Conversely, those who were less interested would soon give up.
Jesus explained it this way: The more you start to understand what God is saying, the hungrier you get for more! This is certainly true when reading the bible, and it is true when you start to understand your dreams. You get hooked!
- Luke 8:18, NASB So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him.”
The parable of the farmer and seeds
The parable of the seeds that Jesus told in Matthew 13 – and the associated explanation – surround the question the disciples had about why He spoke in parables. So, it appears that this parable is Jesus’ answer. This is the parable:
He taught them many things by using stories, parables to illustrate spiritual truths, saying: “Consider this: There was a farmer who went out to sow seeds.As he cast his seeds, some fell along the beaten path and the birds came and ate them. Others fell onto gravel that had no topsoil. They quickly shot up, but when the days grew hot, they were scorched and withered because they had insufficient roots. Others fell among the thorns, so when they sprouted, the thorns choked them.But other seeds fell on good, rich soil that kept producing a good harvest. Some yielded thirty, some sixty, and some even one hundred times as much as he planted! If you’re able to understand this, then you need to respond.”Matthew 13:3-9, The Passion Translation (TPT)
After telling the parable, Jesus explained the meaning:
- The farmer represents Jesus, or God.
- The seeds represent the parables He was telling (and can represent our dream parables).
- The soil represents the attitude of the recipients (the people listening).
The whole point of this story is that some would hear and want to know more (the good soil), but some would get easily distracted and give up the chase. It also applies to the parables God gives us in our dreams: It’s the same God speaking to us today as it was then.
It’s the same God speaking to us today as it was then.
Responding to the parable of the seeds
Let’s apply the parable to dreams. How receptive will you be to the dreams God gives you? How is your heart response?
- Like the road: You don’t understand the dream and immediately dismiss it.
- Like the rocky places: You happily accept the dream but have no foundations for understanding it – so quickly give up.
- Like the thorns: You understand message in the dream, but many distractions mean you quickly forget about it again.
- The good soil: You understand the dream, take it to heart, and act upon it. There is abundant fruit it in your life as a result.
God uses dreams to test our heart and our hunger for Him. If we want to know Him, we will be drawn into the chase – and reap the reward.
2. Parables are there when we need them
I am a visual person, so pictures are very helpful to me. A story or illustration engages our ears, our emotions, and our imagination – and forms a picture that is easier to remember than straight teaching.
With dreams this is even more true because we often experience powerful emotions in them. The audio-visual experience combined with an emotional response means that we remember them and take the message seriously!
I’m sure you can still remember some vivid dreams that you had as a child. Dreams can stay with you for a very long time!
The message can activate at the right time
Often a parable or dream which is stored in our memory activates just when we need it!
We have seen how Jesus mostly spoke to his followers in parables and riddles. But He told his disciples that the day would come when He would speak plainly to them:
- John 16:25, NASB These things I have spoken to you in figures of speech; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly…
There was a period when Jesus’ followers didn’t understand anything He was saying – because they didn’t understand about His coming death and resurrection. They had no frame of reference for them. They were very frustrated!
I can identify with that! I am often frustrated too – when I don’t understand my dreams right away.
At the right time they understood
After His resurrection, Jesus was able to explain things plainly to his followers. All the things He had told them in cryptic language suddenly activated and made sense! Jesus had given them illustrations that they would understand at the right time.
Jesus gave his disciples illustrations that they would understand at the right time.
I have found that God gives me numerous dreams that I don’t understand at the time. But then I will be praying or in a time of worship, and a dream or bible story will pop into my mind. Usually, it is the exact answer I need at that time – and the meaning becomes clear in that moment.
If you make the effort to remember your dreams – they can activate and become clear just when you need the messages they contain.
Parables just go on giving!
As a result, the treasures contained in dreams and parables continue to speak to us on many levels through different seasons of our life.
Consider the parable of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32. If you are a Christian, you have probably heard it many times, and each time a fresh nugget of truth is drawn out; a new angle is seen. One time you may be impressed by the father’s love. Another time you may be challenged by the attitude of the older son. Yet another you might relate to the experience of the younger son.
One short story or illustration is like an endless source of insight that can keep on speaking on so many levels as you go deeper and ponder it further.
A dream can activate just when you need it – and go on speaking long after you dreamt it. The more you pray and ponder on it, the more insight you glean. And it is always there in your memory – ready for when God needs you to receive the message.
3. Parables are personally tailored
Anyone can understand stories. You don’t have to be an intellectual or a bible scholar to grasp the concept of an illustration. You just need to be human with a bit of life experience!
Many of Jesus’ followers were illiterate, so He needed to impart more than just written words and sermons. He gave them something they could relate to.
Jesus took inspiration from the life of the people around Him. He looked at the fields they were standing in; the food they ate; their daily life; and their jobs and family situations. He tailored his parables to his listeners:
- To the farmer he spoke about seeds and crops
- To the baker he spoke about bread and yeast
- To the Pharisees he spoke using symbolism from their Scriptures – and they understood!
- Matthew 21:45, NASB When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.
I find that God does the same with my dreams. If I attend a wedding, He speaks to me about my relationship with Him through it. He speaks to me about my calling through illustrations set in my workplace. He gives me dreams set in my house, my car, and my church. He uses friends, colleagues, and family members. They are all symbolic.
You know when you have understood correctly
For me, the most wonderful thing about dreams and parables is that you know for sure when you have understood correctly. God designs them that way!
I have always struggled to hear God’s voice. Some people get impression and feelings, or think they hear what God is saying. But I find that all a bit vague and subjective. Was it God, or wasn’t it?
But with a parable or dream, it is much more satisfactory when you understand! Granted, it is more frustrating while you are still in the process of grappling with it: There is a period where you don’t understand – where your thinking needs to shift, or you are waiting for God’s timing.
But when you do understand – it all slots into place! You get that a-ha! moment, and you know-that-you-know that you have heard from God. You suddenly see what area of your life it is about – and how God crafted it specially for you. That moment makes it all worth it.
Parables were personally tailored to Jesus’ listeners. In the same way, with dreams, God personally tailors His communications to your life experience and understanding – whatever that may be!
4. Parables draw us back to God for help
While Jesus was on the earth, he personally mentored his close disciples. When they didn’t understand, they went and asked Him to help. I think that was the point!!
He often spent time with them, explaining the meaning of His parables. What an amazing experience that must have been! I love to imagine them hanging out with Jesus.
- Matthew 13:35, NASB His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable….”
In the same way, the desire to understand my dreams has driven me to spend time with God more often than I can recount!
There is growth in the journey
The gospel accounts give us a glimpse of the disciples’ progress, and it was indeed a steep learning curve for them – and not an easy one. But it is obvious how much they grew through that journey!!
There is a popular saying that ‘life is a journey, not a destination’. This has certainly been true for my dream journey. I can testify that:
- My character and endurance have improved.
- My relationship with God has grown as I have spent time with Him seeking understanding.
- I have learnt so much about God’s ways along the journey.
I have learnt more about God by wrestling through my dreams than I ever did from receiving prophetic words or trying to hear God directly in specific moments.
The Holy Spirit will mentor us
Jesus told His followers that, once he was back in heaven and couldn’t mentor them anymore, he would send the Holy Spirit to be their Helper.
- John 14:16, NASB I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, so that He may be with you forever.
We have this same Helper today. Just like Jesus told parables and helped his disciples understand them, so the Holy Spirit gives us personal parables in our dreams – and helps us understand them. This has been my experience, and it could be yours too.
We have seen that God consistently speaks in parables and illustrations which can be cryptic and need unravelling. Interpreting dreams requires us to learn this symbolic language – but we have also seen that there is much to be gained if we do.
Just like the parables that Jesus told:
- Dreams draw the spiritually hungry
- Dreams are there when we need them
- Dreams are personally tailored
- Dreams draw us back to God for help
Does this still put you off dreams?
So back to our original thought: Does this concept still put you off dreams?
- Will you stay offended about the idea and use that as an excuse to do nothing – like the seed that fell on the road?
- Or will you meet God on His terms and engage in the process – like the seed that fell on good soil?
If you are willing to make the journey, the Holy Spirit will be your mentor – just like Jesus was with His disciples. The choice is yours!
If you want to know more, do get in touch, or subscribe to my emails to receive regular helpful dream interpretation tips.
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