In this post I've going to give some examples of what I consider to be credible premonitions or premonitory dreams. Scripture records a number of revelatory or premonitory dreams. Some happen to believers and some to unbelievers. And, of course, we have the programmatic promise in Acts 2:17-18. So it's not surprising if some people have premonitory dreams today.
Premonitions can happen apart from dreams. In addition, dreams can intersect with crisis apparitions, where a dead relative appears to the dreamer. By the same token, apparitions can happen within dreams or apart from dreams.
What's the purpose of premonitory dreams? The most direct function is to warn or prepare the dreamer for an impending crisis. But suppose it doesn't seem to serve any purpose?
Of course, that could be evidence that it's not premonitory. Just coincidence. However, it might still be premonitory. The purpose would simply be to give the dreamer evidence that there's more to reality than meets the eye. That this physical world is not all there is. Uncanny things happen that don't fit into the tight confines of naturalism. That can be an encouragement to Christians. Likewise, it can give unbelievers reason to reconsider their naturalism.
I'll begin with a few accounts I find plausible, but a bit doubtful:
i) I've read that Loretta Lynn has premonitions. Something she inherited from her mother. It's possible those are tall tales. However, I don't see what she has to gain by it. She didn't make her fame and fortune as a reputed psychic. According to Kurt Koch, mediumistic magic is hereditary.
ii) Many years ago I heard a UMC minister share a personal anecdote at a Bible study. He said he was a coal miner's son. He said his mother dreamt about a room she'd never seen before. It may have been a college dorm. Later, she went to the place she dreamt about, and it looked exactly like the dream.
What's striking about this anecdote is that he himself is politically and theologically liberal, so he's not predisposed to believe things like that. However, I'm somewhat hesitant about the account. It's not something that happened to him, but something his mother related to him. So he can't vouch for the experience. And I heard it just once, many years ago, so my recollection might be a little off.
iii) In the late 80s (I think), a friend took me to his church. We didn't go for the service. Instead, We went upstairs to listen to a talk by a retired missionary. It was a small group gathering.
She was an older woman. She was the daughter of missionaries. She grew up on the mission field.
She married a Christian who was gung-ho about going into missions. Ironically, she was far less enthusiastic than he was. She knew from personal experience that foreign missions was very hard.
But she was dutiful, so she agreed to return to the mission field with her new husband–even though she really didn't want to resume that life.
While they were there, one day her daughter told her that she (her daughter) had a death premonition. And, in fact, her daughter died two weeks later.
At that point the missionary told us, "What can you say? It's God's will." She kind of shrugged.
The missionary described how hard it was to get in touch with her relatives back home. The missionaries were in a backwater (in Africa, or maybe Latin America) with poor telephone communications. And when she did get hold of her parents, they were in total shock, since the death of their granddaughter (just a teenager at the time) was completely unexpected.
Aside from the premonition, what came through was her faithful submission to the will of God, despite a very difficult life. A life of hardship and wrenching disappointment.
It's possible that the story of the premonition was something she just made up, but I don't know what would motivate her to do that. She wasn't famous. She was just sharing her life-story with a handful of people in church. Not even in the main sanctuary.
It wasn't a story about miraculous deliverance. It didn't have a happy ending. It wasn't: "God spoke to me! God gave me a vision! Now send me a 'seed faith' offering to make it happen."
My main hesitation is that I heard it just once, many years ago, so I'm fuzzy on the details.
Now I'll move on to stronger examples. #1 is a dream I myself had, back in 2010. #'s 2-4 are anecdotes that Christian friends have shared with me (which I reproduce with their permission). These have been anonymized to protect the confidentiality of the source. I hasten to add that none of them is charismatic. #'s 5-9 are already in the public domain. Rauser is a Christian philosopher. Ruskin was a Victorian art critic and social commentator. Crespin was an opera diva. The rest are self-explanatory.
#1. I had a very tiring day, so I went to bed unusually early for me (9PM). I dreamt of two women walking their dogs (2 dogs) at night. Then I woke up. It was 11PM. (I know the time due to the illuminated digital readout on my clock.) I looked out my bedroom window (which faces the street) and saw a woman walking her two dogs in the moonlight.
#2. My wife and I were speaking with our landlady today. She's an older woman somewhere in her 60s, I think.
For some reason, our landlady told us a story about how she once saw her mother's apparition. At the time, it sounded like she was an adult in her 30s or perhaps 40s. She had gone to visit or follow-up with a well-known doctor who had a practice in an upscale part of town. The doctor had run some tests on her earlier. But on this visit the doctor told her the tests had come back positive for cancer. He also told her the cancer was so widespread that she would likely succumb very shortly. There was nothing they could do. The cancer was inoperable.
She said she went home feeling completely numb. She was in shock and couldn't really sleep. Instead, she just stared at her bedroom wall for most of the night.
However, while she was staring at her bedroom wall, she said her mother suddenly appeared to her. She said her mother had already passed away years ago at this point. But her mother appeared to her and told our landlady that she (our landlady, her daughter) was in perfectly fine health. That there was absolutely nothing wrong with her. Also, our landlady said her mother's apparition spoke to her in a very authoritative voice, which was surprising to her, cuz her mother in life had been a very meek and uncertain woman. Not the type of woman who would speak in an authoritative or confident voice. Our landlady also said she wasn't asleep or dreaming at the time she saw her mother's apparition (since I asked), but was wide awake, just staring at the wall, although she did feel completely numb to everything.
The next day our landlady said that she started to drive to work. But suddenly she broke down and started crying in her car. The diagnosis of cancer had suddenly hit her, and she wept and wept and couldn't stop.
Then she said for some reason she felt she had to drive to the nearest hospital, and so she did. She said she parked right outside the hospital, leaving her car running, and ran into the ED or emergency dept. It took a while for the doctors to calm her down, but when they did, and when they figured out what she was crying nonstop about, they decided to run some tests as well.
She waited in the ED for most of the day, and when the tests came back, the emergency doctors told her that none of the tests showed any sign of cancer. She had come back negative. So the emergency physicians wanted her to check again with her doctor, which she did, and it turned out she was fine. No cancer.
Strange story. I don't know what to make of it. Our landlady doesn't seem like a liar, so I don't think she's lying. She doesn't seem like an emotional or hysterical type either. In fact, she seems quite level-headed most of the time, although she can have a temper at times.
Our landlady is either a nominal Anglican or possibly a lapsed/backslidden one. I can't really tell. I asked, and she told me her mother was a professing Anglican.
#3. I had something happen to me about 13 years ago. When my mother was dying, I and my other 3 siblings were trying very hard to contact our brother in Texas (there are 5 of us all together). I finally did get in touch with him, and he explained he would try, but could not make it to see my mother. It all seemed rather suspicious. After my mother died, I began going to church with my father (at his dispensational church) so he would not be alone. I would then go to breakfast with him (he and my mom did this every Sunday), I would then drop off my dad at his house, meet up with my wife and go to my Reformed church.
Within a few weeks after my Mother died, one night before church I had a dream. My mother appeared in my dream, quite vividly and said, "Tell your father to get to Texas to see your brother. He's very sick, he has problems with his heart valve." She was emphatic. I woke up quite unnerved. At breakfast after church I said to my father, "Dad I don't believe this sort of stuff, but make of it what you will." I then told him what my mother had said. I did so almost jokingly, if not arrogantly skeptical. I also told my sister, who then made a more concerted effort to get in touch with this brother. We eventually came to find out he was in hospice with only days to live, with a number of health issues, and yes, with heart valve trouble. My sister and father made it down to Texas. My sister said as the doctor explained his condition, when he began explaining the heart problems, she was stunned. My sister made one last effort to share the Gospel with him (he lived a very rough and ungodly life). At this point, he was conscious, but not able to speak. My sister said as she went through the Gospel with him, tears were flowing down his face. Now, I don't know if he, like the thief on the cross, came to faith that day. But, it is certainly within the realm of possibility.
I've never been able to wrap my brain around this experience. If indeed this was a "miracle," I don't think they happen every minute, but are rather the exception. In other words, I'm typically very skeptical.
#4. I have read in the paranormal literature that oftentimes the powers of individuals can be weak, or that an omen may only be fully understood after the fact. My story is (I think ) of the later sort. My marriage fell apart in the winter of 2013/2014. Before I get to that I need to point out that my marriage ended in an adulterous affair, My ex-wife met the man she ended up in a relationship in October of 2013. I cannot be sure of the exact date of their meeting, but it was around the first of the month, I have confirmed this with her. So that sets the stage for the dream, and the other odd event that happened, which I suspect is possibly paranormal.
This nightmare occurred during the first few days October 2013. I don't remember my dreams very often, and only rarely have a nightmare, but when I do have them they are detailed. I have common places in my nightmares; specifically, a very large brick building of about two stories. It is hard to tell from my dream whether this is a school building or a very large house. In this particular dream it appears it was a house. The house is always in a very densely wooded area with flora you would see in Southern Indiana (where I am from). The dreams usually take place in the fall just when there is a bite in the air. Winter's first bite I guess. I came up to the house and I enter into a side door. The door opened up into a foyer type area, there was a sitting room to my left, that was unusually small, with a small sitting couch next a fire place with white trim. The room was rather elegant. To my right was a wall, and straight ahead was a hallway leading into what looked like a kitchen area that trailed off to the left but was hidden by the wall of the hallway. On the hallway wall was a door. At this point in the dream I realize my oldest son John is standing next to me. He had regular clothing on and tennis shoes. We both went to the door and opened it. The door opened onto a cellar with makeshift wooden stairs that went down into the basement. The walls were made of the old stone you see in very old houses with cellars. You could see only a little of the cellar because the wall that lead down with the stairs blocked the view until you got half way down the stairway. I could see an orange glow. Maybe the glow came from a fire but I am not sure. My son and I took a couple steps down, and when I looked up there was a little boy at the bottom of the stairs looking up at me. He looked like my son, but it wasn't him. In the dream I could tell it wasn't him because there was something about his shoes, though I have no clear recollection of what it exactly was about them. Also, my son was standing next to me, but that wasn't what tipped me off it was the shoes. I still find that weird. Anyway, the 'boy" looked up at me and simply said "5 days" in a very non-boy like tone. I became extremely frightened and picked my son up and ran up the stairs and back into the foyer room. I went for the door but one of the pieces of furniture from the sitting room slid in front of the door, and we couldn't get out. That is when I woke up in absolute terror. The dream was so realistic it frightened me. That is the end of the story. I was on edge for the five days after the dream. I was worried that something bad was going to happen to one of us.
The man my wife had the affair with was the assistant swim coach at the High school at which my wife is the coach. I know they met in the week after I had the dream, because that is the beginning of the swim season. I wouldn't put these pieces together until later, and maybe it is just me looking for patterns. The second event was when I met the man. My ex-wife had asked me to go pick up some swim team warm up uniforms at the local sports store. I brought them to the school after her swim practice one evening. I dropped them off and the assistant coach was there. I am a pretty friendly person, and I usually have no problem talking to strangers. I shook his hand and introduced myself. Now, I usually do not think negatively of people when I first meet them, but this time I had a strong revulsion for this person, and something internally inside of me said that this man was going to cause a lot of pain in my life.
There is one other fact about this time period and I am not sure how it could factor into the story, but I have read a little on the occult. I know at this time there was a women who worked in my ex-wife's department at the school who was into Wiccan. I am speculating here, but I guess it is possible that my wife may have been dabbling in some of it. I do not know for sure, but she did get a tattoo associated with druidism. I don't have any evidence that this is the case. Maybe she got the tattoo because she liked the way it looked or some other non-spiritual reason. I do find it a rather interesting possibility.
#5. Thirty years ago my dad [Randal Rauser's father] designed, built and sold grandfather clocks and he couldn't figure out how to assemble a particular movement. Since the engineering of this movement was critical for the future success of the business so he prayed for instruction/guidance/insight and continued to pray until he sensed God would provide an answer. That night he had a dream in which all the parts of the movement were laid out and then it self assembled in just the way he needed. He woke up, drove straight down to the shop before the sun was up, and completed the movement just as he had dreamed it.
If my dad were a non-theist, of course he could just chalk that up to chance and natural insight. But as a Christian he reasonably interpreted the experience as an answer to prayer.
#6. Some years ago I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut.” In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you might come today.” And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him. C. S. Lewis, "The Efficacy of Prayer," The Atlantic (January, 1959).
#7. Suzanne was an elderly woman in a hospital suffering the final stages of a terminal disease. One morning she told her doctor she had just awakened from a dream:
She sees a candle lit on the windowsill of the hospital room and finds that the dandle suddenly goes out. Fear and anxiety ensue as the darkness envelops her. Suddenly, the candle lights on the other side of the window and she awakens.
The same day Suzanne died, "completely at peace". K. Bulkeley & P Bulkley. Dreaming Beyond Death: A Guide to Pre-Death Dreams and Visions (Beacon Press, 2005), 63.
#8. Before her illness took its fatal form–before, indeed, I believe it had at all declared itself–my aunt dreamed one of her foresight dreams, simple and plain enough for anyone‘s interpretation; that she was approaching the ford of a dark river, alone, when little Jessie came running up behind her, and passed her, and went through first. Then she passed through herself, and looking back from the other side, saw her old Mause approaching from the distance to the bank of the stream. And so it was, that Jessie, immediately afterwards, sickened rapidly and died; and a few months, or it might be nearly a year afterwards, my aunt died of decline; and Mause, some two or three years later, having had no care after her mistress and Jessie were gone, but when she might to go them. J. Ruskin, Praeterita (Oxford 1978), 61.
#9. Which reminds me of something really strange that happened in 1953. I had come from Nîmes to sing Faust in Rouen and stayed in Paris overnight to get my costume. I had a strange dream. I was walking along a street and a man walking toward me on the opposite side crossed over and tore off the front of my dress. Half undressed and very embarrassed, I tried to cover myself. The next night I had the same dream.
I sang Faust the following evening, and in the last act, when Marguerite, now mad, is in prison for killing her baby, I wore a sort of thin nightdress that floated around me, and as I moved toward Faust, a voice from the hall exclaimed,
“What a beautiful bosom.”
It caused a murmur of laughter and embarrassed me into trying to cover the area in question with the long hair from my wig. After the performance, the dresser opened the door of my dressing room to a gentleman blushing with embarrassment, who asked my pardon for the remark that had escaped him. And it was exactly the man from my dream. In shock, I asked if he knew me, if he had ever seen me before. No. Regine Crespin, On Stage, Off Stage: a Memoir (Northeastern University Press 1997), 260-61.