Jesus said to them, " Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." John 8:58
As a child I experienced nightmares frequently. While I trained as a doctor I realised that some of these verged on night terrors rather than just bad dreams. Dreams were so real to me that when I awoke I was uncertain where I was and whether I was still dreaming. I also experienced such reality in my dreams that I would be aware of being in my bed and looking at my bedroom around me and yet realise that I was still asleep. There would follow quite a long period of panic when I would be unable to wake myself up in spite of consciously pinching myself. The panic resulted from a strong feeling that I would be unable to get back to the reality of the world I knew. Eventually I would wake up and realise that although I thought the bedroom was the same in my dream it was, in fact, slightly different; it was my mind's reconstruction of it from memory and a bit like a blurred and faded photograph.
Similarly I have had moments in my waking life when I have wondered whether life itself is all a long dream from which I shall eventually awake. Certainly many people say that bad experiences through which they are passing are like bad dreams from which they wish they could awake. You may think from reading this that I was a disturbed child, and perhaps I was, but I think I am a fairly 'normal' adult. Most of us can relate strange experiences in dreams. Some people have 'out of body' experiences while others claim to predict future events. None of this is in conflict with the experiences recorded in the Bible although some of them may be alien to us as individuals. Our dream world is complex and poorly understood.
Reality can be wonderful, monotonous or sometimes terrifying. When reality is frightening and we have to cope with dreadful events on our horizon it is natural to want to escape into the dream world. We can read stories, watch films, drink alcohol and try to sleep but, of course, reality always wins. Similarly we can be overwhelmed by happiness and joy when we realise that the person we love also loves us. We certainly have no wish to hide from such reality. We dream about being with them when we are apart and then we meet and hold them in our arms and feel the reality of their love. The dream comes nowhere near the reality.
The greatest joy I have ever experienced in my life came to me when I was a young man. I had been kneeling by my bed in my digs as a medical student and asking God to fill me with his Spirit. I cannot really describe what happened except to say that I was overwhelmed with God's love and joy. That was the time in my life when I knew that God was alive without a doubt. I had believed by faith since I was about fourteen years of age but this moment was my Damascus road experience. Not everyone I know has had a similar experience and I am sure it has nothing to do with my merit but perhaps God knew that for me it was necessary. I have found the Christian road hard to walk along and have wandered repeatedly but this sentinel moment has been there to remind me that God is real and alive in his world. The moment has never left me and I have not doubted its reality.
God is the final reality. When Jesus said of himself, 'before Abraham was I AM', he was telling the Jewish listeners that he was God Almighty, Jehovah, the creator of everything. He existed before Abraham and before the world was made. This is for me the greatest saying of Jesus because there is no doubt here about who he claimed to be. As I knelt by my bed in south London all those years ago I knew, as did Paul, that Jesus is the great I AM. This is the great truth that puts all our dreams and phantoms to rest. Whatever fears we may have in the reality of our earthly lives or whatever phantoms may haunt our dreams we can know that Jesus is always the same and is in control of his world. He has prepared places for us and we shall be going there to be fully united with him. Our experience of him now, most of the time, may be a bit like our dreams of meeting a lover, but one day we shall be held in his embrace and feel his eternal strength around us and be lost in his love. He promises that when we see him we shall see him face to face and what a wonderful face it will be to look upon.