A Call for the Christian Imagination

How to bridge the glaring gap between this hard life and the Kingdom reality.

It doesn’t take long as a Christian to realize there’s a wide and ugly gap between the bare-walled reality we feel captive to and the joy Jesus offers. But I have realized the tension of this dilemma is something Jesus acknowledged in His Sermon on the Mount—and in it, we find we already possess one of the most useful tools in this journey toward real and lasting joy.

Jesus makes a series of declarations in His mission statement called the Beatitudes that sound impossible and unattainable. Each proclamation has one foot firmly planted in a colorless, hopeless reality and the other firmly established in a vibrant “fairy tale” world.

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says, “for they will inherit the earth.”

“Blessed are those who mourn”—a statement grounded in the certainty of the moment, and I always imagine there is a long pause in between these words before He delivers the punch line—“for they will be comforted.” Are you sure? When? How?

It's almost as if Jesus has invited us into this great adventure only to be faced with a bridgeless cavern that appears, by our standards, impassable. If we are honest about our lives, about the condition of the world around us, then Jesus’ words seem an outright call to suspend our disbelief.

And perhaps that is the point. The key to liberating ourselves from the oppressive tension between this world and the next, Jesus seems to say, is imagination.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Yet today’s people of faith are a little suspicious when they hear about the “power of imagination.” It’s a curious reaction for followers of the God who fed 5,000 people with several fish and a loaf of bread or two. And yet Jesus was constantly pushing the boundaries of possibility. Resurrection spawned revolution and imaginative transformation. For example, Christians are believed to be some of the first to begin adopting orphaned children. The early Church was the first to view children as having rights. For centuries, it has been the people of faith who were the innovators, the writers, the painters and the learners.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Frederick Buechner compared the Good News to a fairy tale. I often wonder if they weren’t both referencing the truth that following Jesus is an imaginative journey—one that takes seeing beyond what is immediately present and tangible.

Imagination is the groundwork of progress. It is the blueprint of joy. Before we climb a mountain, we must be able to imagine ourselves at the peak. Before we write a book, we imagine seeing our name printed on the cover. Before we break an addiction, lose weight or get out of debt, we imagine that change as reality. God has given us imagination so that we can envision the possibilities in between who we are today and who we were made to be, between the world in its fallen condition and a world where all inhabit life to the fullest.

In the 90s classic movie Jerry Maguire, it is this imaginative vision that keeps Tom Cruise’s character up at night and ultimately causes him to abandon his prestigious job at the firm and set out with nothing but his conviction and the company goldfish. His life-altering moment of clarity kindles a dream of how his profession can be transformed into a practice of integrity, compassion and genuine concern for his clients. He calls it “the memo.”

These "Jerry Maguire moments" grow out of the place in our soul that perceives the glaring divide Jesus refers to in the Beatitudes between the way of the world and the way of God. And it is our imagination that can build the bridge.

God has given us imagination so that we can envision the possibilities in between who we are today and who we were made to be.

My 9-year-old son and I were standing in the checkout line at the grocery store during the holidays. He reached up and pulled off a food bank donation ticket and placed it on the counter with our groceries. I silently paid the bill, and we carried our bags of groceries to the car. As we drove home, he told me about the sign he read that explained purchasing the ticket would feed one family dinner for an entire week. He said he imagined how hungry he would be if he didn’t have dinner and just couldn’t bear the idea of a family somewhere not eating. The power of imagination is what moved him into action.

When terrible earthquakes ripped through Haiti, my friend Matt was busy imagining how he could reach out to victims of poverty across the world. He had five kids to care for and no financial support to start up a nonprofit. Yet because he had a vision, he helped transform a local ministry into a missional outreach organization. Years later, his nonprofit, SafeWorld, is busy building a birthing center to help those very Haitians that spurred him to action in the first place. What began in Matt’s imagination is now a source of hope and substance for people in need across the Third World.

It is our God-given imagination that gives us the essential tools—the hammer, nails, ropes and ladders—that enable us to bridge the great divide between harsh reality and Kingdom reality.

I think we bury ourselves deeper in joyless captivity and the world grows a bit darker each time we let these moments, realizations and imaginative revelations slip by without acting on them. On the other hand, people who live lives of meaning and fulfillment and real joy are those who are willing to take action when they notice something about their world that misses the mark. They are those with the resolve to carry out their "Jerry Maguire moment"—to first imagine their “mission statement” and then set out down its path, even when the only one who will go with them is the goldfish.

As people of faith, our very calling is grounded in our ability to imagine: What do redemption and justice really look like? How will the hungry be fed, the poor be cared for, the grieving be comforted? God has already given us the key to bringing His Kingdom to earth. It’s time to imagine the first step in bridging this divide.

8 Comments

Kristianna

1

Kristianna commented…

such a beautiful and encouraging perspective.

Luke Gilstrap

1

Luke Gilstrap commented…

I'm a grateful member of a seven piece band who will most likely frustrate a large part of the music industry. Often times, rehearsals turn into dream sessions. We want to go about things really differently. We, too, notice the void that apathy creates between the life Christ beckons us toward and the one in which we now reside.

I am so excited to see others finding God with us through our imagination.

You know, I always wonder, "What was so peculiar about Christ in His lifetime?" And with articles like this, and readers like you all, I think we are beginning to get closer to that answer and to that reality.

Jeff Nowak

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Jeff Nowak commented…

Everyday imagination and grace... a glimpse inside my mind:

I daydream. I doodle. I enjoy music and art.

I talk with God frequently and try to live my faith as best as I can as a broken sinner redeemed by Christ's sacrifice.

Recently, I have been angry about justice issues. Becoming a christian did not fix the fact that the world is still messed up. So, I day-dream dark thoughts of 'most reviled congressman' or other bad-guy getting violent retribution. These thoughts are often too graphic and would be banned if they were a movie. I brood and spend a bit too much time dwelling on these thoughts.

Eventually... eventually, I am humbled by God. I know that these day dreams are just completely unrealistic and that God would never allow or seek retribution like I imagine. I ask God in a round about way 'why does this stuff happen?'. My anger builds and after a while it subsides in catharsis; when I recognize that only because of God's grace does stuff like this happen. Those bad-guys will (most likely) never get what they have coming to them for whatever real or perceived injustices they have committed. No matter what happens, God is still honored in the mess and His grace is the connector that holds everything together. So, I am humbled and a bit ashamed that I used my imagination and creativity to think such stuff instead of just leaving the issues and feelings in God's hands.

I am left dazed and filled with awe at God's grace.

Now, I try to look at the world around me and see that, be it in the dark recesses of reality or in warm-fuzzy moments, I want to take an imaginary high-lighter to them and look for God's grace in the moment.

Then, I get distracted again and my imagination kicks in. My mind wanders to ways to illustrate or convey God's grace to those around me. Sometimes, it culminates in a generous act. Or a joke to get the cashier to smile. Hugging someone who needs it. Acting when necessary as I am able. Or covertly. And many times, the idea comes to me after the opportunity passes. But, my imagination still works and it is part of the process in sharing hope.

In the end, I thank God for the ability to be creative and to have imagination. And, His grace

Robin Barben

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Robin Barben commented…

Loved your article!!!!!
Albert Einstein had a a few good things to say about imagination. 1) "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For Knowledge is limited to what we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."
2) "The sign of true intelligence is imagination, not knowledge."
What you are calling imagination here, or as Albert calls it, true intelligence, is the link or bridge between Heaven and Earth. It is the access point from where we are able to bring the ideas from the realm of spiritual perfection into action on the earth's imperfection. The bigger the "imagination", the more we can bring to bear the perfect reality of the Spiritual Kingdom into the circumstances of this world. In these moments of access, we are listening with a mind that has
nothing to do with human IQ or material knowledge, for it is an intelligence that is not our own, but belongs to God and
whomever petitions it with the desire to bring more good into this world. Thank you for having a wonderful imagination!!!
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