“Use Your Imagination!”
For some of us, the imperative in this title might be license to freedom- a liberating release from the rigidity of the daily and mundane to play in the boundless world of our richest thoughts.
For others (and most of the time, me), it spawns a sign or a roll of the eyes. “What good is the imagination?” my conscious might say. How can something so ethereal be helpful in ever delivering something concrete and beneficial?
And on second thought- can’t the imagination be dangerous? Isn’t unbridled imagination and wishful thinking responsible for leaving young people with bright futures destitute and homeless when they leave everything they have for dreams of “Hollywood or Bust?” Or worse, isn’t imagination the engine that drives much of the sexually explicit, violent, or humanly degrading productions and performances in the entertainment industry? Can we look at, say Lady Gaga, as Exhibit A of how the imagination explored means the exploitation and indulgence of the flesh?
After exercising some imaginative thought myself on the matter, I believe that arguing systematically, we can make this verdict:
Imagination is not a thing to be feared, vilified or oppressed, but the imagination is in fact a manifestation of the Imageo Dei in us.
God has an Imagination?
We are told in Genesis 1:26 that God says “let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” To the medieval theologian, this means man is rational and intelligent beings (like God). To Martin Luther (perhaps surprisingly) or many theologians today, this means that we are created as relational creatures- both giving and receiving it, just as God in the Trinity perfectly exists in relationship with Himself.
Regardless of where you fall, could there possibly be any other explanation for the source of the human imagination besides the fact that God first Himself practiced it? If one definition of the imagination is “the capacity to conceive of what is not,” then certainly God must have first contemplated and envisioned the created order, before He spoke it into existence.
Imagination is the Imageo Dei in us. It is what makes mankind unique as the pinnacle of Creation. And I firmly believe, both in limited personal testimony, but more so from the testimony of Scripture and others, that God shared the power to imagine that we might better know and worship Him.
But, isn’t the human imagination corrupted? Where else do perverse fantasies come from? Well yes- since the fall, the Imageo Dei has been broken. And as a result, the imagination has likewise been broken and rearranged. The imagination can take us into trouble. In fact, we can even define idolatry as “bad imagination” in practice.
But just like every other element of our being, that does not mean the imagination is eternally useless and broken. It just means that it must be used properly to deliver the good it’s maker intends.
What does Worshipful Imagining Look Like?
In her book Imagination and the Journey of Faith, Sandra M. Levy states that the imagination is “the human power to transcend the concrete, to create new images or ideas…[and] to receive and respond to God’s revelation in our everyday lives.” I believe we see the imagination being exercised in much of the biblical literature. Is it irony that one of Jesus’ favorite mediums of communication (and that of the prophets before Him) was through parable? Would David have had the same level of conviction (or have arrived there as quickly) had not Nathan told him the story of the king who stole the poor man’s sheep? Perhaps Jesus and the Spirit (through the prophets) knows that storying not only engages the intellect, but also the imagination and heart of the listener in a way that achieves a deeper buy-in, and a deeper impact.
Even in human conversation, how empty and void would our communication be without the use of metaphors, word pictures, and other descriptions that require us to imagine what is being communicated to us, if we haven’t laid eyes on it ourselves. I believe that much of the imagery we see in the apocalyptic and the poetic genres of the Scriptures requires the use of the imagination to try to conceive of the heavenly throne room and the mighty presence of God, to even begin contemplating His holiness and His love. Without imagination, how would the human soul be captivated with awe and wonder when it contemplates God? Thus, true worship of the soul requires the use of the imaginative faculties.
Embedded in the command “use your imagination!” is the assumption that the imagination is something that can be exercised. And the more I try to flex and build my own pathetically tiny muscles in this area, the more I believe it should be prescribed for spiritual fitness for all.
As a little kid, I used my imagination. A LOT. Superhero sagas were the most common outlet. And the more I played “imagination,” the more powerful, original, and to be honest… cooler… my heroes and the thickness of my world saving plots became.
But as 21st century evangelicals, as those whose worldview is deeply affected by the Scientific Revolution, and modernity, I think we need to challenge our souls to “play imagine” in our time of prayer and meditation. Many in the church today to unencumbered for God, fulfilling every commandment, praying ceaselessly, worshiping without reservation. But inside, they feel weary and dead.
C.S. Lewis called the imagination “the organ of meaning.” And certainly, his use of the imagination in Narina and his fictional writing has helped others identify their identity and meaning in the nature, the character, and the purposes of God.
Even the book of Common Prayer states “imagination is our means of grace and our hope of glory.”
Let us coax our souls into letting us smelling the Galilean sea water and the body odor of the masses as we follow Jesus in the footsteps of his earthly ministry. Let us take time to still our busy souls and to try to imagine the incomprehensibility of God. Resuscitate your God given imagination. See what else in your soul might start breathing when it comes alive.
 Imagination First: Unlocking the Power of Possibility, Eric Lui and Scott Noppe-Brandon