Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"As a dream comes with many cares ... so a nightmare can emerge from existing worries

As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.

Now while a person may subscribe to the necessity of considering both parts of this verse in light of claims made by Mark Driscoll to get dreams from God revealing sexual infidelity years ago on the part of Grace I am not going there.  No, where I'm camping out today is in the first part of the verse.  I know a few bloggers and reviewers have considered with some horror Mark Driscoll's assertion that he had a dream in which a revelation was given to him that in the early months of his dating relationship with Grace she was sexually unfaithful to him.  Now setting aside that Mark himself had been a serial monogamist Driscoll recounts in Real Marriage that all his women were sexually unfaithful to him while he was faithful to them.

The analogy in Ecclesiastes 5:3 is predicated on the connection between the foolishness that comes from much speech (i.e. a stupid vow before the Lord in the broader literary context) and the connection that exists between a dream and brooding.  It was understood in ancient societies that dreams could emerge from worrying about something a long time.  While Mark Driscoll seems confident that the dream of Grace's unfaithfulness from the dating years was a revelation it is possible to take a more prosaic approach to such a dream.  By Mark's own account all his previous women cheated on him.  A nightmare in which even his own wife turned out to be unfaithful to him does not need a supernatural explanation even if we simply run with the simple observation of Ecclesiastes 5:3.  The dream could still feel like a revelation given the overall faithfulness of his wife and I certainly would not wish to diminish the shock of such a dream or that it had a foundation in actual relational problems.  However, I would stop short of saying such a dream, even if I had it myself, as necessarily being a supernatural revelation from God.  Why?

Well, the short and overly broad answer has to do with the overall biblical witness about dreams from the Lord.  They tend, overwhelmingly in fact, to be cases in which a dream warns of a future disaster to be averted at a personal or national level (often both).  Abimelech feard death because the Lord threatened to kill him for taking Abraham's wife.  Joseph had dreams in which he saw he was ruling over his family and though the dreams came to pass he unwisely shared the dreams and caused resentment.  Pharoah had a dream, as did two of his servants, and Joseph interpreted the dreams as referring to upcoming events.  The positive outcome for one of Pharoah's servants became the ground from which Joseph made an appeal for his release from prison.  This, in turn, permitted him to interpret the dream of Pharoah so as to anticipate a famine and establish policy that permitted the safety of people in the region.

I could go on, of course, but it will suffice to say that dreams of warning from the Lord as actually described in the Bible tend to warn of a problem that is about to occur, not about sins committed by one person against another years or even decades prior.  Without intending to diminish the significance of an unusually nasty nightmare Mark Driscoll describes I simply don't have to jump to the conclusion that the dream was a "revelation" simply because it turned out Grace had done what Mark dreamed about.  As Mark Driscoll might say of another's dream, "Maybe it was bad pizza."  That was Mark's way of fielding questions about the possibility that an unusual or disturbing dream might be from the Lord.  It might be possible but in practice it would be better to err on the side of finding another explanation first. 

In the case of Mark's own nightmare his earlier praxis of caution and skepticism would seem apt.  We can propose, in a very prosaic way, that given Mark's anxiety about the sexual unfaithfulness of all his prior girlfriends that it's not shocking that at some point in his marriage he might have at least one nightmare that even Grace was not faithful to him.   It is not necessary to appeal to a divine origin for the dream when a natural explanation is not only equally plausible but particularly when the natural association between persistent worry and a resultant dream is affirmed as a normal process even within the scripture itself. 

It isn't beyond providence that even such a natural dream can't take on a significant role, it's just a potential case of being over-eager to retroactively give a dream a divine status because the content of the dream happens to correspond with what turns out to have taken place.  If the author of Ecclesiastes heard Mark Driscoll describe the dream that gave him the "revelation" about Grace the author himself might not say "Maybe you had bad pizza." he might say, "Well, of course you might have a nightmare like that since that was the nightmare you lived out with all the previous women you were with, right?"  As a dream comes from much brooding ... .

By extension, given the anxiety such a dream caused Mark Driscoll it is not entirely surprising that in pastoral counseling roles he might read this anxiety into counseling others.  Recovered memory therapy has evolved along such a well-established script that secular psychological research, cognitive research, and medical practice have established how wildly unreliable and misleading it is.  At the risk of putting it in overly simple terms something as traumatic as being abused would be something you remember even if at the time it occurred you may not have thought of it as abuse.  Long-term memories of events earlier than the age of about four are now considered to be almost completely beyond possibility.  Actually a child even at the age of six may not remember something.  I found this out when I took one of my nieces to see Star Wars in Concert and, a year later, she didn't remember that she went with me and my brother.  Oh well, the important was she had a huge amount of fun at the time.  :)

I have already written at length about the "I see things" clip as a thing in itself and in the context of the four hour presentation Mark Driscoll gave on spiritual warfare from 2008.  Since the statement about the dream/revelation about Grace's unfaithfulness from the earliest months of their marriage got published in Real Marriage this year it constitutes, obviously, a new claim of a divine revelation.  It may be useful at this point, then, to urge some caution about Driscoll's claim to have a supernatural revelation by way of a dream because in pastoral settings early in the church when someone would talk with him about a weird or disturbing dream he would urge caution. 

Do you want to know how I know this?  ;-)  I, dear reader, had a very weird and troubling dream and ended up talking with him about it and his caution seemed like a useful warning at the time.  So you can think of this as me belatedly returning the favor of urging some caution about assuming a deeply troubling dream must automatically be a divine oracle.  In this case the caution is not "Maybe it was bad pizza" but, "Even Scripture says that the stuff that bothers you over your life will be stuff you dream about."  This 'may' be a revelation in as much as a man had a nightmare that corresponded to the reality of waking life but it can also simply be a nightmare born out of the pattern the man was largely aware of and anxious about in waking life without having to also be a supernatural revelation to boot.


Anonymous said...

Mark had only one other girlfriend. He said.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

From Real Marriage, a few excerpts from Mark Driscoll.

page 6:

"Around this time I started having sex with a girlfriend."

page 10:

"In my twisted logic, since I had only slept with a couple of women I was in relationships with, I had been holy enough, and God owed me."

page 14:

"I grew more chauvinistic. I had never cheated on a girlfriend, but I never had a girlfriend who did not cheat on me. And now I knew that included my own wife. So I started to distrust women in general, including Grace. This affected my tone in preaching for a season, something I will always regret."

There's apparently some room for interpretation as to how indefinite the indefinite article was on page 6. If there's some other source where Driscoll explicitly states he only had one other girlfriend besides Grace a citation is certainly welcome.

In any event the observation from Ecclesiastes 5 about dreams reflecting waking anxieties is still the same. Driscoll's eagerness to avoid "manipulative women" suggests the possibility that he had concerns and worries about women that were in addition to and beyond however many girlfriends he had sex with prior to marrying.