The God Nightmare

I’m running through a large dark house. I’m terrified, wanting so badly to leave. But for some reason I am driven by an invisible force, roaming from empty room to empty room, looking for paper notes from God.

The notes are supposed to help, give me peace and answers. But instead they are making everything worse. I am crying and dreading going into each room, but I go into the darkened room and search around with a flashlight until I find a pink paper heart with writing on it.

“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.”  I recognize it from James 4:8. I stumble sobbing to the next room and find the next note, it reads “Seek ye the lord while he may be found” , from Isaiah 55:6. I’m so frustrated. I am seeking! Why can’t he see that?

In the next room I find a pink heart with the words “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It’s from Romans 9:15, the section on predestination that basically says that God only loves some people, and hates others, based only on his whims.

My heart sinks. God still doesn’t want me. Why does he keep playing this game of pretending that if I just search harder, ask more questions, that I will find him, or feel his presence. When in reality I’m just not one of the people that he loves. I never have been.

I find a bedroom that looks like mine and run into the bed to wake up my husband. Please pray with me! I plead, there is a dark presence in this house and it’s oppressing me, hell is sucking me in. He laughs at me.


I wake up in my bed, heart racing. I can’t stop the panic attack, God is out to get me. I try to relax enough to breath, and pray silently until I regain movement in my limbs. Then I wake my husband and ask him to pray with me. Of course, he does; and slowly I relax in his arms. And slowly, I start to fall back asleep.


It’s frustrating. No matter how far I’ve come, God is still terrifying to me. I don’t hear the voices anymore. But once in awhile, I still have nightmares. They almost always involve either my parents telling me how wrong I am, me being the mother I don’t want to be and hurting my kids somehow, or nightmares about God.

My dreams about God are never reassuring. It doesn’t matter if I am currently feeling close to God or far from him. The dreams always feel the same somehow. God hating me, God laughing at me, God condemning me. Looking at this dream written out, it seems ridiculous that it could have been so scary while actually dreaming it, but it was. It feels silly that this would scare me, I mean seriously, who else has nightmares about God? Is it just because I’ve read to much of the bible in my lifetime or what?

In waking life, I don’t really care anymore if I get sent to hell. If God hates me that much, why would I want to spend eternity with him anyways? But in my dreams, I am always transported back to wanting so badly to be good enough for an angry God.

It bothers me that my instinctive reaction to bad dreams is still prayer. Why pray to a God I have nightmares about? A God that seems to be uninterested in me. I know that prayer for me in those moments is largely an attempt to discipline my mind and regain peace. But the oxymoron of praying to a God that was just taunting me in my dream, seems kind of dumb to me.

Why can’t I ever have a peaceful happy dream about God’s love?

  • Sarah

    Wow. There is a lot of condemnation and rejection in that dream. My initial reaction is that it's not God, but the devil, putting those images in your head.

    Maybe it would help to imagine a loving God when you're awake. Back when I was really fighting guilt and scrupulosity, a priest told me in confession to go sit in front of the tabernacle and just imagine the face of Christ smiling at me. It was so peaceful.

  • Michelle

    I'm so sorry you have been tormented with this image of an angry merciless God.

    I don't really have any other words…

  • Rebecca in CA

    You poor thing; what a trial! Have you tried talking to your guardian angel about this? Angels are very powerful and are given to us for our comfort and assistance…try asking him for his help in a kind of concerted way. I know that for me, sometimes the thought of praying to God is just too much; too big, or something, and it is easier just to hang out with an angel or saint for awhile.

  • Rebecca

    Those dreams sound so painful. I think that our view of God is so largely determined by our relationship with our parents. And your story has shown that your parents were often distant, hard to please, demanding, etc. I think that is why you feel God must be that way.

    I hope that helps…

  • Aimee

    Hi there! I followed the link to your blog from the conversion diary site. That sounds like an awful nightmare. I noticed that you said you have an interest in the orthodox and Catholic traditions, and I wonder if you might consider seeking out priestly intervention if this is something that happens to you frequently. It doesn't sound ridiculous to me to be so frightened of this dream, and I hope it doesn't sound ridiculous to you when I wrote that this sounds like a demonic attack to me.

    Yes, the images and feelings are probably deeply rooted in your psyche, drawn from experiences. But that haunted, sucked-into-hell feeling–that seems demon-related to me. I'm not an expert by any means, but in Catholicism we talk about the range of ways the devil can get to us on a continuum, from simple temptation to full-out possession. Please let me be clear that I'm not talking saying you're possessed. But you may be experiencing something supernatural, hiding behind the perfectly natural reaction to past experiences.

    When something similar happens to me (not the same content of the dreams, but that same haunted God-hates-me thing) I have prayed this prayer:

    "Saint Michael the Archangel,
    defend us in battle;
    be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
    May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
    and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
    by the power of God,
    thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
    who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

    Remember that we don't worship saints, but we can ask them for intercession–and this is Saint Michael's job, to help defend us from just this kind of thing.

    You may also want to consider seeking spiritual counsel from a priest on this one.

    And I don't blame you at all for feeling the difficulty of praying after this dream; I'd only say that if I were the devil, that's precisely the feeling I'd hope to sow in people.

    Please take care, I'll be praying for you.

  • Juliet

    Keep your eyes only on Christ. Truly you know that He is the truth, the way and the life. I find myself thinking and praying for you. I so want you to find the peace of Christ awake and asleep. As a cradle Catholic I have never thought of God as angry, sad and disappointed probably but not angry. Do not despair of finding His peace and love. We all struggle with faith. I think Israel literally means 'He who struggles with God' so we're in good company!

  • Leigh Ann

    ((hugs)) So sorry you are experiencing this.

  • Annie C

    My suggestion: Walk away.

    Call it an experiment if you like. For a week pretend there is no God. There's a heaven, if you like, and maybe a holy spirit, but no God. Look to your family for love and comfort and solace. Keep a book of poetry by your bed to read when the nightmares come. Secular poetry, of course.

    I mean I don't know about you, but I wouldn't let a boyfriend treat me like that, or anyone else down here, so why put up with it from a Deity?

    I consider myself an Atheist, near as I can tell the whole idea of god is a myth. And the further away I get from god and religion, the more peace and love I feel.

    Anyway, my $0.02 on the matter. Good luck.

  • priest’s wife

    AS much as I would love you to become a Catholic and all…Annie C is probably right. You need a break. Or try praying/talking only to your angel.

  • Kaighla

    I understand the complex reasons you are having these nightmares, I think, to a point. First of all, you are right in your statement that reading too much Bible will give you a clearer view of God, as the Old Testament shows God's absolute power in ways that should scare us, but scare us in a healthy way, scare us into being more careful what we say, do and think. If a person reads enough of the Bible, he/she will inevitably find that the OT God is very much unlike the NT warm, fuzzy, hippie-love, everybody is welcome, "buddy Jesus" kinda God. I will be honest and say that throughout my life I have been afraid of many things and have been plagued by nightmares as well. I am afraid of the dark, afraid of myself, afraid of people coming to hurt me in the night, afraid of my own shadow sometimes. The most terrifying dream I used to have (and I had it so often) was one in which I was running, running, running from something terrifying and huge and horrible that wanted to tear me limb from limb and everyone around me saw but ignored. I had this dream like 3 times a week at one point. I can tell you honestly that after I began reading Qur'an, these dreams came less and less often. And since I converted, I think I can count on one hand. Now, a Christian may say this was because the devil was done with me, he had his way and led me astray so he was finished. I say it's because I found peace in finally worshipping God alone, going to Him direct with no intermediaries, no angels, no "sons". Him and me.

    On the topic of your reference to Romans 9:15 being an example of God loving some people and hating others, i have to disagree and give a different perspective. The Qur'an also says, in many places, that God guides whom he chooses and leads astray whom He choses, but it is also clear that this choice is based on the actions and intentions of the person, not His whims. If a person genuinely wants to believe God is there and wants to live for Him and worship Him alone, they have opened their door and He gives them guidance to follow the Straight Path. But if they have hardened their heart and refused to open to Him, they have chosen their fate, as God gives us all free will. So, a better translation would be "God guides who wants to be guided and allows to wander those who want to wander".

    I love your writing and feel so privileged to follow along on your journey. Please, keep struggling through these things.

  • berenike

    Why pray to a God I have nightmares about?

    Because you know that He is not to be afraid of, but large parts of you associate vast amounts of bad things with God because of the way they were trained or what they have experienced. You wrote somewhere recently about one of your daughters flopping perfectly happily and trustingly over your lap for you to do something for her, with no idea of the possibility of being spanked, and remembering yourself having been unable to bend over for your mother to fix something. I'm just a reader of your blog, but I suppose from what you write that this is a similar matter. After all, you knew that your mother wasn't going to spank you that time. But your reaction was understandable, and (given the spiritual powers of the soul, the reason, don't have perfect control over the others and over the body) natural. If some other person, who had never ever hit you and never hit anyone, had suggested you bend over so that she could fix something on your dress, I suppose one would have the same reaction, even though one knew perfectly well it was for a reason that would increase comfort and not cause pain. One'd have to practise, build up to, being able to bend over to have one's zipper freed.

    (adapting the comparison for the vastly weirder and more subtle world of the psyche, obviously)

  • berenike

    Why pray to a God I have nightmares about?
    grrr, comment has been eaten – well, in short, – you remember writing about one of your daughters flopping trustingly over your knee so you could do something for her? And how you'd been unable to bend over so your mother could fix something on your dress?

    I expect it's the same kind of thing (making the necessary allowances for the psyche being more complicated, the fact that it wasn't actually God beating you up in the first place, etc): you know the reality (that your mother only wanted to fix your dress), but all your reactions are trained a different way. The reason doesn't have perfect sway over the rest of us, and the reactions are natural in the circumstances, even though your reason is right when it says "no need for that reaction here".

    So "prayer for me in those moments is largely an attempt to discipline my mind and regain peace" – it's bringing your reactions into line with reality, it's living in accordance with reality (that God is good and that I have very painful and conflicting associations and reactions concerning Him).

    I'm just a blog reader, and this is just potted standard anthropology, am not attempting to say anything about what you should or shouldn't do. Prayers for you.

  • Jill

    My heart breaks for you. I believe God's heart breaks for you. May you find peace.

  • Heather

    I like the priest's wife's suggestion of praying/talking with your angel. Your guardian angel will help you to battle this spiritual warfare… it's worth thinking about, anyway.

  • Sally Thomas

    You know, at times I've had bizarre dreams — not on the magnitude of yours, but unsettling — in which my husband either was another person. Right after we were married, I dreamed that I married some other guy, whole wedding and everything, feeling that something was insanely wrong but I couldn't think what. And I have had dreams in which he behaved in ways which were not at all in character.

    My first reaction on waking? Reach out for the real husband.

    So I think your impulse to pray on waking is not so strange. And I think, as others have said, that the God who calls you to speak to Him and be comforted is not the being who torments you in your dreams.

    But if prayer feels too dangerous and fraught, you know that others of us will carry you in ours.

  • jen

    I was listening to KLOVE (local Christian radio station that's now national)today while I was out running errands and someone was talking about some similar things — their image of God was overly critical just as their parents were. The person talking does pastoral care and he mentioned that he used to ask his seminary classes to write down a certain number of attributes that they saw in God… and then to do the same thing with the attributes that their father had. In almost every case, they were identical.

    The speaker talked about Psalm 139 being his favorite chapter of the Bible… just as it is mine because it talks about how we're lovingly and intricately created. Psalm 91 speaks of the Lord hiding you in his fortress and not letting any evil befall you. Psalm 27 is another one speaking of how the Lord will protect you from those who seek to hurt you.

    Waking your husband and having him pray for you is totally the best thing to do — I've had to do the same thing before.

    And seriously, don't worry if you can't pray — the Spirit has you covered (Romans 8:26-27). I believe I can speak for everyone here when I say that we're all holding you up in prayer.

  • Rebekka

    This is so tragic. I will be praying for you. I second the recommendation to seek out a priest and to ask St Michael to pray for you.

  • David T.

    Aha. Is it mental or is it demonic? Does it matter? Is anything to hard for God? If we are His children, and He grants according to His will, shouldn't He heal the mental anguish or extinguish the demonic oppression? If He doesn't, how can we have peace in our hearts? Christ said plainly, my sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me.
    This is what you struggle with! You think that you are not following Him close enough, that's why you can't hear His voice. And yet at the end of the day you are doing all you know that He want you to do, yet you still don't hear His voice. You throw yourself at spiritual disciplines and you don't hear his voice. Either you are not a sheep or there is no God?
    I am becoming very fond of the idea that the Calvinists are right, and I am most definately NOT one of the elect. It would explain alot.
    RE: prayer. Think Pavlov's dogs. If you've been raised a Christian, you develop an almost instinctive response to anxiety to pray. The greater the anxiety, the greater the draw to pray. I don't see this as Spirit-prompting as much as it is plain old conditioning. Over a period of several weeks of consciously trying to break this response and not pray at all, I find it is hard to break at first. But it goes quickly.

  • Anne Bazin

    What a trial, I am sorry that you are having such powerful spiritual attacks.

    The difficulty, which I know you are aware of, is that because of the long term abuse of your childhood, the God you know is the God your parents so often talked about. I have heard it said that the love a parent shows their children is how the child will come to understand God's love (much like what Jen said above me). No wonder you have difficulty really believing that God's love is unconditional. If God, the Father is causing you so much anxiety, try spending more time getting to know God the Son, or even the Holy Spirit.

    Cerebrally, you know that there is more to God than the harsh dictator of the Old Testament you learned about in your youth, but healing is going to take a long long time. Don't be discouraged. Think of the love you show your children; they are so blessed because that is how they are learning to experience God's love.

    I pray for you and your family. Healing, and the joy and peace that come with it, will come.

  • Rae

    Okay, some of this advice is killing me (thank God that some have been so protected that they think there are such simple solutions!) so I am only commenting to say that I seriously empathize with you. There are no easy solutions. There are just little things that work sometimes, and not other times.

    I hope that tonight's sleep is restful for you.

  • lydiapurpuraria

    How terrible. I've had a little taste of this before, and the fear involved is sickening.

    I heard from a priest once that one of the little reasons there's a Trinity is because God knows we can't always relate to Him as Father (which is heartbreaking, but true). So, He also reveals himself as Son and as Comforter. As Son, he takes on our humanity and all the suffering it entails. He understands us and doesn't judge our weakness. Instead, he sees our weakness as strength. As Holy Spirit, the comforter, He descends to us as pure love. Obviously, no amount of theology is going to make a difference, and it might be that assurances of prayers seem futile, too. I do know that sometimes praying to God as Mercy helps reconfigure our view of Him. I do this whenever I struggle with perfectionism or being scrupulous. Peace be with you!

  • David T.

    Very interesting observation. Perhaps you have something there.
    Unfortunately in the fundamentalism I am surrounded with, if you can't relate to God as stern father than you just don't fit in. I imagine other parts of Christendom would be more geared towards relating to God as suffering Son or as loving Spirit.
    In the past, I have dabbled with imagining God as my lover. However, I feel like that's wrong somehow. And it certainly doesn't fit in with ANY Christian denomination's outlook…
    and besides, I can imagine God as anything that I want (suffering Son, loving Spirit, my lover), but then isn't that just imagination? I want Him to break through to ME.

  • Mary Poppins NOT

    Sometimes dreams are our body's way of untangling issues we just can not deal with when we are awake. They aren't real, so when you wake, turning to your real husband for real prayer to the real God does make sense. But your dreams are your psyche's "worst case scenario" that you keep at arm's length while awake. Over time, these will fade, as they become less relevant to the reality of your life. I think you are still transitioning from a child in your parents home to a woman with her own home. It can take a while, but you will make peace with your relationship with your parents, even if it is just to step back, and let their hurtful attitude go right past you. I truly think this is much more about your parents than God. And God waits for you to untangle. No rush.

  • lydiapurpuraria

    @David T
    Everyone has their own spirituality. Even in Catholicism, there are lots of different facets of spirituality. God knows this, and I think He likes it that way. For instance, not everyone, as you say, relates to God as a stern father. I've heard this view of things as "old testament Christianity", bereft of the incarnational message of the Gospel. God is all goodness, and everything that makes up goodness. If you're drawn towards the idea of God as divine lover, you're in good company. John of the Cross wrote about that, as did Solomon, Caryll Houselander, and others. Maybe check out some of their stuff? John of the Cross in particular -he'd explain it all a heck of a lot better than I ever could.

  • Beth

    Knowing you background and how often satan was throw about in your parent's theology I am not about to write to you and tell you you are under demonic attack. Haven't you hear enough of that and couldn't that make things worse? Without understanding the complexity of your spiritual upbringing and the psychological issues I think people can lead you astray. Writing online has its limitation.

    Dreams can be powerful ways our subconscious is trying to work things out. From what you have said you have a great deal to work out and heal from. Your imagine of God is broken.

    I understand some of your struggles and I think to some degree most churches are unhealthy in some way. Being Catholic I find grace and depth in the Mass and Eucharist. I also see a great deal of fundamentalism and people who have psychological issues to deal with. I do too myself but at least I am aware of it.

    I am hoping young mom that you can work through the deep seated issues of your childhood and arrive at a place of peace with yourself and with God. I hope that there will be people in your life that can show you what is really true.

  • Anonymous

    {{{Young Mom}}}
    Do you know about lucid dreaming ? Not everyone can manage it, or in the same way or all the time, but it can be learnt and being able to control your dreams is a good way to diffuse nightmares. (Heck, just last night I had a potentially scary dream involving vampires, me, and what's for dinner (me). I tried to run away but whatever I did they anticipated, and then at some point I was just "screw this, you might be superpowered vampires but this is MY dream so I make the rules" and proceeded to will them out of existence and fly away (well… jump very high. I'm not that good at flying in dreams))

    I think it's natural given your history that you'd have this kind of dream about God, and I assure you it doesn't sound ridiculous at all that you'd be terrified by it. I have lots of scary dreams that I never think of as nightmares because they feel more like exciting adventures or invigorating chases. On the other hand when I was young I dreamt about my family being turned into zombies or something which was so horrifying I woke up crying and was affected all morning. On paper it sounds exactly like any other dream I had but for some reason that one was a nightmare.

    Last dream anecdote : I find that my dreams often follow things I'm anxious about in my life. When I started wearing contact lenses, every. single. dream. I had involved losing them, and then finding one, and then finding the other, and then finding a third, and a fourth, until the world was made of contact lenses but which ones were mine???

    I mention that one because it's through the sheer repetitiveness of that dream that I first started lucid dreaming; I just told myself "new rule : if there are three lenses, you're in a dream". And incredibly, it worked. And once I knew I was in a dream, I could fight to wake up or learn to control it. I also found those dreams disappeared quickly enough once I started doing that.

    Your dreams are much more emotionally charged than mine were and the underlying issues are much more important, but the fact that you keep having the same one makes me think that maybe lucid dreaming could help you too.