Thursday, February 2, 2017

Upside and Downside of Imagination

Where would we be without imagination? Through the centuries, imagination has propelled inventors to new horizons – such as the Wright brothers (literally) and their flying machines, Thomas Edison and the incandescent lightbulb, and George Washington Carver, who found many uses for the humble peanut.

Alexander Graham Bell imagined talking to people by telephone, but probably could not have imagined the smartphones we use for so many things, even talking. Then there were explorers like Magellan, Columbus, Marco Polo and Lewis & Clark, who imagined lands and peoples far beyond where eyes could see.

Imagination has greatly enhanced
everyday life, and transported us
to worlds we never knew.
Empirical disciplines like science and engineering have employed imagination for discovering how to cure diseases, build skyscrapers, and transport humans to the moon. Has space exploration stagnated due to a decline in imagination?

Imagination is the foundation of the novels we’ve read, classic films and TV shows that endure the passage of time. Even non-fiction, which has been my career focus, requires imagination for crafting articles and books that appeal to readers. As one writing guru once said, “There are no boring topics; just boring writers.”

Where would our favorite theme parks and entertainment venues be without imagination?

However, imagination can have its downside. For instance, what if you spend your days imagining, “What if I’d married Pat instead of Robin?” Or pondering, “What would life to like to live in that 5,000-square foot house with the six-car garage?” Imagination used that way can drive us to a constant state of discontent.

Then there’s the Beatles’ song, “Imagine.” Pretty song, but John Lennon wrote about “nothing to kill or die for…all the people living life in peace….” Nice sentiments, but we might as well imagine no gravity, or bad weather. There’s been hatred and killing since the dawn of time; no amount of legislation or idealizing will change that.

The same dichotomy is true spiritually. One of the great questions confronting humankind is, “What happens after you die?” And for those who believe an afterlife, specifically in heaven, the next question is, “What will it be like?”

Vocal group MercyMe sings about this in their similarly titled, yet very different tune, “I Can Only Imagine.” They pose questions that challenge the imagination: What will it be like to see Jesus face to face? Will we dance, stand still in awe, fall to our knees, sing hallelujah or, “will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine….”

We share our faith in Christ with others imagining the difference He could make in their lives – knowing how He is transforming our own. Imagination also prompts us to wonder how the world could be changed by taking seriously Jesus’ commands to 1) love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and 2) love our neighbors as ourselves. How the effects of poverty (body and soul), abuse, hatred, and other malicious behavior and thinking could be diminished!

But the Scriptures caution there's a downside to imagination spiritually as well. Proverbs 18:11 states, "A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination.” The first book of the Bible declares, The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil” (Genesis 6:5).

Imagination had a role in the idolatry practiced by ancient Israelites, who copied pagan neighbors in fashioning false gods out of wood, silver and gold, then worshipping those manmade icons. “…you walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart” (Jeremiah 16:12). And Romans 1:21 states, “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts (imaginations), and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Later the question is asked, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot (imagine) in vain?” (Acts 4:25).

In 2 Corinthians 10:5 we find the pro and con of spiritual “imagining” together: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,” urging instead that we “(bring) every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

There is a tendency, author Patrick Morley wrote years ago, “to worship the God we want, rather than the God who is.” In other words, what kind of God would I like to have? This is where the Scriptures can serve as our boundary, giving latitude to exercise our imaginations in productive ways as we worship and serve the Lord, while avoiding the conjuring of images that run counter to His revealed truth.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). I can only imagine!

No comments: