Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Yet in the same way these dreamers also defile the flesh, reject authority, and slander the glorious ones.
Before beginning the main purpose of this post, I feel it necessary to clarify the Scripture quotation and how I am using it. Too oftentimes, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is heard of a story about what God does to homosexual men. Yet, this story in Genesis is mirrored by a similar story in Judges 19, with most cruel outrage was the horrific rape and abuse of the concubine (combined with the Levite’s cutting her up afterward in 12 pieces). The story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the similar story in Judges 19 is not about god’s judgment of gay men (or lesbian women). It is about God’s judgment of those people whose need for sexual pleasure and dominance (these two desires can become intertwined) lead them to do great sexual evil. Thus, this story function for Jude about what happens when people’s desires for sex and dominance go awry.
Jude then applies this example to the current ‘teachers’ that his audience is having to address. The point of comparison isn’t in the exact sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, but in a similar manner they misuse their bodies, they have a desire for power that makes them cast away authority, and they bring harm to God’s messengers and people. The other thing that is said about them is that they are “dreamers.” The phrase is not meant to be used derisively of the act of dreaming, but it is more so identifying these figures by what they are apparently most known for: the dreams they have. Dreams were considered to be “communication” from God in various ancient literature, so these figures were likely boasting about some dreams they had about what God was going to do. Contrasting Jude’s language here about such events with how Paul values visions in 2 Corinthians 12.1-10 can show that the ultimate ground for faith for the apostolic church was in union with Jesus’ suffering, rather than focusing on dreams and visions.
However, in pointing this out, I want to be clear here that the problem for Jude doesn’t seem to be simply that they were dreaming. Dreams about the future, about God’s will, etc. are not ruled out for Christians. However, it is the way that these people who dreamed sinned in bodily defilement, the disregard of authority, and slander to those who demonstrate God’s glory. So, in my exhortations and cautions that t provide below, do not hear this as saying “If you dream, Jude’s words apply to you.” My point, however, is to use Jude as a cautionary tale of how our visions for the future, whether in an actual dream or our imagination, can lead us astray.
Hopeful visions for the future can be a good thing. Indeed, the Apostle Paul talks about boasting in the future hope of sharing in God’s glory in Romans 5.1-5. Beyond that, dreams for our life, whether they be for our career, marriage, church, etc. can be very helpful for our growth and learning. When we imagine possible futures and even the confident future of God’s glory, our imaginations provide an opportunity for us to “simulate” what that life would be like. Such simulation can help change our values and goals, but simulation can also help us to imagine how to go about receiving and/or pursuing those hope. Dreams, literal and non-literal, can serve as a guide and motivator for life. They can even help us to overcome struggles and hesitations over time. For instance, I who had multiple traumas when it comes to romantic relationships with women have been gradually learning to reverse the resulting fearful-avoidant romantic attachment style through dreaming of a woman who I wanted to marry, imagining various scenarios of the relationship, such as driving around while on a vacation, making and sharing dinner together, watching movies together, raising a child, having an argument, working through relationships struggles, and other things, thinking about how to feel and react to each of these scenarios. Dreams can be a good thing, even if some of them may not happen.
Yet, dreams can also lead us down a cliff. When we feel our dreams are somehow guaranteed, inalterably destined, or entirely within our control and grasp, something happens to us. Our dreams do not simply help prepare us to receive and possible and promised futures, but we begin to expect that our dreams will… no… MUST, come true. A sense of entitlement begins to creep within dreams. Anything that challenges those dreams become a threat. As such dreams are an expression of our desires, hopes, and wants, such dreams can make us increasingly self-absorbed and focused on what we want. This gets combined with the way that the vast majority of dreams are not necessarily grounded in the way things actually are, but a vision of a desirable future, however realistic is or isn’t. At this point, such a form of dreaming can increasingly lose any sort of “epistemic anchor” that keeps expectations for the future in line with what is happening, including with what God is doing. The combination of the entitlement of desire and minimal reality can be a host of all sorts of dysfunctional or even destructive behavior. Much like cancer is the result of cells that ignore any signal to stop replicating, the combination of those features creates a dreaming that multiples exponentially without any regard for information and feedback in life about what is happening.
I use this cancer metaphor purposefully, as I think there is a real connection between cancer cells and many instances of out-of-control dreaming. While there are cases with mental ill may be thought to have out-of-control dreaming, their impact is generally of a very limited nature and the consequence of their dreams do not spread. However, there are many cases of out-of-control dreaming where the impact is not limited. Whenever out-of-control dreamers obtain power and influence, the impact of their behaviors spread by their actions and risks being contagious to others. Firstly, their power and influence mean that their words and actions are given credence by others, which only serves as reinforcing feedback for their dream. In this context, they begin to push back against and resist any feedback that says “No!” and “You are causing harm!” Then, as such people are usually revered in one way or another, other people imitate their behaviors. Then as such behaviors may lead to conflict with others, those who are on the receiving end of the damage of their out-of-control dreaming may themselves be tempted to fall into a form of similar dreaming in overcoming their opponent. Out-of-control dreaming is much like cancer, which can cause one to lose touch with the nature of the world around them and as a consequence, cause an increasing amount of harm and spread the same way of thinking.
However, there is a source of power and authority that can lead to even more out-of-control destructive dreaming than that which comes from human authority and power: the belief that God has endorse and empowered your dreams. As God is one who we believe to be a power above all power, who can not be conquered or stopped, there comes a potential pitfall: if we believe that God has unconditionally endorsed our dreams and inalterably ensured our hoped for futures, then we become even more immune to the feedback of what is happening around us. Our thinking about God can become a form of avoidance of the realities of the world, that we then reinforce by the belief that anyone who we feel challenges our dreams must be resisting God or even unrighteous so that one doesn’t have to listen to them. Out-of-control dreaming that thinks that God has ensured their place loses even more touch with the situation around them, thinking their fantasy and imagination of God is itself the will and truth of God. Meanwhile, they are out of touch with God, who if he promised Eli’s family to go in and out in front of God forever then takes it away at the wickedness of his sons and raises up a faithful priest, Samuel (1 Samuel 2.27-36), God will certainly take away the dreams we feel are assured if we lose track of what God’s will really is and instead gorge our wants and desires without concern for what is done to others, particularly the more vulnerable among them.
Dreaming as Christians is inevitable because we are humans. However, whenever we risk losing touch with the will of God, there is a simple solution: to behold the cross of Jesus Christ and Jesus’ call to us to lay down our lives for one another. When we beholds the deepest truth of God’s will in the cross and embrace the love of Christ on the cross as our own love for another, then one is in the place where one is open to discerning the will of God (Romans 12.1-2). The imagination of imitating the cross has a way of putting to death our dreams and hopes, particularly those that are rooted in sin. The cross is the most real word from God about our future, and even as it includes the resurrection and later sharing in God’s glory, it must begin and start from the cross. Out-of-control dreaming has no place in the imitation of the cross.
There are so many places where we can risk getting lost in our imaginations about God. Dreaming about heaven, expectations that God has ensured a specific job, spouse, etc., metaphysical speculations about the nature of God, projections into the future of the Church, etc. There is nothing wrong with dreaming and thinking in each of these areas, etc. However, at the same time, they can all serve as places where we lose touch with the will of God by our imaginations. We risk getting caught into the speculation of what lies beyond the epistemic veil of what is available for us to see, hear, feel, taste, and smell, so we are perpetually called back to tune our thoughts and imaginations to the Incarnate Christ who lived and died among us and to join together in the feeling, taste, and smelling of the bread and wine that signifies His death to us. It is here where those of us who have been born of God recover our past and discover the gifts that God has given to us.
So many of us have been dreaming. Dreams can be good. But this time is coming for us to wake up. As Ephesians 5.14 says:
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
May we the Church awaken from any out-of-control dreaming and come to embrace the real truth of the crucified Savior, who when we share in His cross our Heavenly Father will also allow us to share in His resurrection and His glory.
With one final word, I have a word of thanks for helping me to come to this understanding. While there are many people who have been essential to my faith journey over these past few years, there is one person whose words and teaching gave me what I needed to put it all together: Rev. Jessica Lagrone, the Dean of Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary. Her teaching on anamnesis at a Communion service was the work of the Spirit to help me bring all of this together, which has been the culminationg over nearly a decade of experiences in my life (and even my whole life, to be honest). May God bless her, but more importantly than that, as we are in the midst of a tremendous change in the future of the United States, may the Church break free from all of its out-of-control dreaming and begin to see the Spirit who is powerfully at work among many of those people who are not white straight males.1 May the white, straight males wake up from the cancerous dreams we have been a part of and in so doing and remember God’s love and mercy that we have forgotten and may God make those who have been last in such a world first.