We traditionally (at least in this culture) perceive imagination as being a method for creating ideas or things that have no foundation in reality. Things that are “imaginary” are not real. Novels are imagined. They are fictional. Children’s fantasies are shadows of reality, practices designed to prepare them to function in the “real” world.
Often this is the case. Novels certainly are imagined, and child’s play is pretend. But I’m becoming convinced that this limited perception of imagination might be short-changing us. What if imagination is actually a gift from God, designed to allow us to “see” the unseen. To “see” Him? What if we were designed to use our imaginations to picture and better understand (and more readily believe in) unseen realities?
There are dangers here, of course. It’s very possible to imagine things that do not exist. Relying on my imagination as a revelation of truth could put me out of touch with reality. And I’m leery of believing you can create reality by wishing it into existence. But at the same time, I wonder if we miss the wonders of the unseen world by not wondering imaginatively more often. (Don't you love that sentence?!)
So how might this godly imagination work? Yesterday I was picturing my current spiritual state, framing my feelings about my walk with the Lord in a visual image. I saw myself, a small sheep, hunkered down on the side of a lonely, grassy hill, all by myself, lost, no landmarks, no way of knowing where I should be going.
That’s an accurate picture of how I’m feeling right now. I’m not afraid or frustrated. God has instructed me not to fear or be dismayed. He’s told me that He is my God. He’s promised to strengthen me and help me. He’s said He will uphold me with his righteous right hand. But I am confused. Not sure where to go from here in my life.
Today I realized that, though this image is an accurate picture of how I feel, it’s not a totally accurate picture of reality. Psalm 142:3 says “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who knows my way.” When I discovered that verse in my quiet time this morning I added some new elements to my “lost-on-the-lonely-hill” image. Today I pictured (accurately) a tall, gentle Shepherd standing on the hill beside me. He’s got a little lamb in his arms (a picture of some of my loved ones who need to be carried right now), and He’s walking beside me, step by step. Not pointing in any direction, but leading. His walking appears aimless but I know it’s not. He knows where we’re going.
Some years ago, on a rainy, dreary Vancouver day, I was sitting in my car at an intersection waiting for a red light to turn green. As I waited, a ray of sun broke through the clouds and a beam of warmth fell through the window onto my arm. I said to myself, “I’m going to imagine that warm beam of light is God touching me.” Before I could finish the thought, a more powerful one interrupted to say, “It’s not your imagination.”
Unseen realities are all around us. It takes imagination to believe that. Imagining is a risky business. We could make mistakes. But maybe we need to take some risks. Imaginings that are based on Biblical truth will lead us into realities that could revolutionize our lives. Today I will quit hunkering. I will imagine that the Shepherd is by my side and I will step out in faith, confidently, knowing that the rod and staff are in place if I turn in a wrong direction.