DEMONS AND DREAMS
Here’s an interesting question – “can demons taunt or tempt you through dreams?” Many people I have spoken to have had experiences with things demonic at night, so how do we make sense out of our experiences. What is happening in those dark dreams that most experience at some point in their lives?
Before offering an answer, I must say that the Bible does not offer a direct teaching on the matter. There are no examples in the Bible of a believer whose dreams are said to be the working of a demon or demons to taunt / tempt them. Given that the Bible does not directly teach this idea, I am inclined to say no. Nonetheless, just because the Bible does not teach something does not mean it is not true, so it requires further theological and scientific inquiry to respond. (For example, the Bible does not offer a direct teaching on the jumping of kangaroos, though we know kangaroos jump, so just because the Bible is silent on kangaroos, does not mean it is not the case. We must remember that the Bible is sufficient for us, but not exhaustive for absolutely everything we ponder or do in this life. Anyway….).
From further reflection and investigation, I would answer this question by first seeking clarification. Ultimately, it really depends what we mean by the terms in the question itself. Let me explain. Dreams are activities of the mind, the thinking faculty of the soul. Dreams are just thoughts we have when we are less alert, specifically when are sleeping. Now then, I have a theological problem saying yes to this question, because demons no where in Scripture are said to have access to the soul or mind of the believer, and given the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit in all Christians it stands to reason that He--the Spirit--would not cohabitate with a demon in the soul of a believer (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14b, "what communion hath light with darkness?"). If I say ‘yes demons can taunt you in dreams’ then I am granting them access to my soul and giving them power over the omnipotent Spirit who indwells me, which seems theologically clear – that’s off limits. Of course, there are examples of those who thought they were believers (like Judas) whose thoughts were invaded by demons, but there are no examples of bona fide Spirit-filled believing Christians who are taunted / tempted in their thoughts or dreams directly by demons coming into their souls/minds.
The Bible is clear we have the mind of Christ as believers (1 Cor.2:16), so I am inclined to say demons don't have direct access to our minds, thoughts or dreams. However, there is a sense in which I could say yes to your question. Let me explain. I think demons have the ability to mess with our thoughts, including dreams, through other means, that is, through secondary agency. This means that a demon cannot--to use a metaphoric example--punch me in the face, but a demon could use something else, like say a bat, to punch me in the face. This example is just to point out what a secondary cause is, in this case a bat. Demons don't have direct access to our thoughts, but they can have secondary agency casual powers through secondary agents like bats. So then, what is this metaphoric bat in real life spiritual matters? It can be a host of things.
The key in this is to see the prepositional distinctive I am making, that is, demons cannot be in your dreams, but they can do things to them (the distinction here is between the prepositions "in" and "to"). For example, a demon may tempt me to gossip about a friend. I give in and that sin then begins to have ramifications on my thoughts, like, I may begin to think that person does not like me, I may begin to feel disliked, rejected, etc. This will create stress and that will toy with my dreams. I may experience anxious dreams of altercations with people that are heavy and draining and all of this robs my joy, makes me combative and causes me to pull away from relationships. Another example, a demon may tempt me with lust. I may see someone attractive and succumb to a lustful or romantic thought. I may then dismiss the thought, but find later at night when I am sleeping that that lust attacks again as my mind runs in my dreams. When we dream, our minds are running, but we are not as mentally alert, so the matters of the day time can haunt us in our sleep. In fact, dreams are often the running-out of or replaying of what we have thought during the day when we are awake. And this is why entertainment for Christians must be carefully screened, because it easily becomes a bat for Satan. Hence, I don’t watch a host of shows and movies because they can easily become a bat for Satan to strike my dreams. I experience this quite often, that is, how what I watch and consume during the day impacts my dreams. This is why I don't watch shows that tempt me to covet, degrade the image of God, promote sensuality, etc. because it will have an impact on me one way or another.
The devil and demons are truly in the details. And they are able to swing this metaphoric bat with great force. Another example of secondary agency (or what I am calling a bat) that we could consider is alcoholism. I may be tempted by a demon to drink excessively. Alcohol is an obvious "bat" that the enemy uses to impact our thoughts, including our dreams. Most people will experience this to be true, if they drink before going to sleep, it has an impact on their dreams (some say for the positive [“it makes me relax”] others say for the negative, either way it can have an impact). I have seen demons ruin people through the "bat" of alcohol. So again, to be clear, the demon is not in the liquid of the drink, but the demon works through that liquid to wreck havoc on a person, including believers. The demon is not in the movie, but uses it to mess with a person, which in turn impacts their thoughts. The demon is not in the strained relationship, but uses it to impact us. As to the metaphysics of all the above, much more could be said, explored, and asked. For example, what ontologically would it even mean for a demon to be in a thought or dream and what sort of metaphysical presuppositions drive views on this question? Alas, this is just a blog post and not an academic article, so we will save the metaphysics and more for another day perhaps.
In summary, the Bible does not have examples of demons having direct access to the thoughts or dreams of believers, but it does imply through its teachings about demonic activity/power and from experience this seems to confirm that demons can still impact our thoughts through secondary means, which then impacts our dreams and many other realities in life. A Christian may have strength awake that he or she does not have when sleeping if they are not careful or mindful of secondary demonic workings. A Christian man may be fine sitting at the beach looking a swimsuits. He may not lust at all while awake, but then finds later that night or the next night that in his dreams he is confronted with lust from the images/memories of the day. This is not rocket science. The enemy will lay traps that have delayed effects. In fact, those are often the best traps for him, because they produce results. Unlike humans, the devil has a great deal of patience. He will lay a trap and wait as long as he needs to, in order to make you stumble. All of this is a sober reminder that we are in a battlefield against an ancient foe. However, Praise God that our Lord has conquered this battleground. And praise God that our Savior, the LORD Jesus Christ, is mighty to save. So, on a practical note, I find that it is very effective to confront dark dreams by prayers in the name of Jesus and to think of Him defeating the darkness by His atoning death and resurrection. The images of redemption and His glorious return have a way of stilling anxious dreams as the Savior hears my cries for deliverance in the night and is gracious to deliver me.