What comes to mind when someone mentions “imagination?” Often imagination is thought of as childish pretending, daydreaming, or a way of escaping reality. Is imagination escapism? Is it evil? Lack of clear teaching leads to confusion, and as a result, Christians do not champion or cultivate imagination. But imagination is a gift from God, allowing us to see Christ with the eyes of our hearts. In this blog series we will explore (1) What the imagination is; (2) how imagination plays out in God’s grand story; (3) how the imagination captivates the heart through the sight of what is real; (4) how imagination leads to worship. Imagination has three facets: story, sight, and song. But before we get to those we must define imagination.
What is imagination?
First, imagination is a part of the mind, the part of the mind that forms mental images. As Gene Edward Veith Jr. says, “Imagination is the faculty we all have of conjuring up pictures in our minds.” It is the ability “to think in pictures or other sensory representations.” This conception goes as far back as Aristotle: “the soul never thinks without an image.”
Imagination is the mind’s eye. It is how we see and understand the world. For George MacDonald, the imagination is “that faculty which gives form to thought.” For example if I asked, “What did you have for breakfast?” When toast, bacon, and eggs come to mind, that would be the use of imagination. Being able to remember what the eggs looked like on the plate, what the bacon smelled like, and how the toast tasted would all come by conjuring up mental images about the past. We use our imagination when forming memories and in thinking about the future. It is how we see the world in our minds.
Second, imagination is a gift from God. We can’t help but imagine things. It’s part of who we are, and it’s not something we should take for granted. We imagine because we’re in God’s image.
Third, imagination is a tool that helps us see reality. Imagination is not meant to be an escape from reality. Just because “you can dream it” does not mean, “you can do it.” The imagination is a means of grace to see reality as it really is. Take hope, for example. Christian hope expresses confidence in something that hasn’t happened yet; therefore, Christian hope requires imagination, a Christ-filled imagination. Christians should be a hopeful people and they should be prepared to give the reason for the hope they have (1 Pet 3:15).
Fourth, imagination helps us understand the world. The word for imagination in the Bible means “to think, deliberate, meditate, or weigh the evidence.” In other words, imagination is a God given tool to help us see Christ through the eyes of faith and understand the world he has made. C.S. Lewis gets it right: “this is what the imagination is about: not just the ability to dream up fanciful fables, but the ability to identify meaning, to know when we have come upon something truly meaningful.” We need the imagination to discern. We need it in order to grasp the meaning of something. We need an image to connect it to. Imagination serves as the bridge between heart and mind.
Lastly, imagination is necessary. It is not just something for creative people in the arts. In order to know and love a God that cannot be seen, the imagination is essential. James K. A. Smith reminds us that we all have a particular way we view the world. Each person pictures the good life and their place in the world. Each person has loves and longings that are shaped by his perception, so it is essential that the imagination be in play. As believers we need imaginations fixed on the person of Jesus Christ in order to love God and our neighbor. As Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
Now that we have defined imagination, the next post will talk about the role of imagination in God’s grand story of redemption.
So insightful Ashley!
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