Imagine, for a moment, that you are at the beach and the weather is perfect! It is not too hot or too cold, and there is a gentle sea breeze blowing in on you. There you are, sitting on your beach chair in total relaxation. Watch as row after row of waves roll in from the distance. Listen to the sound of the waves as they break gently on the shore. Smell the fresh salt air. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Take a moment, now, and actually imagine yourself in this situation.
At this point, you may be wondering what this exercise in imagination has to do with worldview. Let’s get at this by answering a couple of questions.
First, were you able to actually feel the feelings of being at the beach? If you actually participated in this visualization you likely were able to. Even more so if you have actually had a previous experience similar to what is described above.
Next, did your feelings about the beach relate to reality? Now, the answer to this question is a little more complex. They did not relate to reality in the sense that you were not really at the beach, and the feelings you felt were induced by your imagination. On the other hand, they do relate to reality in that the beach and all of its environment are real.
As we consider how we understand God, we recognize, right off the bat, that God is a real person. On the other hand, we have never had the opportunity to actually experience him as a physical presence. We have a reliable revelation which tells us things about him – things that we can relate to experientially. And we recognize that he is not some abstract spiritual being, but is, rather, a real, tangible person that we can know and interact with. But we have not actually experienced his physical presence.
That being the case, what is the means by which we are able to experience his presence with us? The simple answer is that we are able to do it by means of our imagination. Before we go any further, we must emphatically emphasize that this does not mean that God is imaginary. He is not. He is an actual person that we can know. But the way we experience this relationship is not by means of our physical senses.
As it turns out, our imagination is the key to experiencing the reality of God. Imagination does not make something real or unreal. A thing’s actual reality exists independently of our own thoughts or ideas. In the case of knowing God, if we know he is real by revelation, we can experience his reality more vividly by using our imagination.
Imagination is defined as the faculty or action of forming ideas or images in the mind. It is the ability to see with the “mind’s eye” what cannot be seen with the physical eye.
In some situations, the imagination can be used to consider something imaginary – that is, something that does not actually relate to reality. When I was a child, there was a popular song about a one eyed, one horned, flying purple people eater. Someone had a very active imagination to come up with this creature for the song. And because of the graphic lyrics, I can picture in my mind what that creature might look like. But it does not make the creature real.
But imagination does not necessarily relate to the realm of the imaginary. In fact, every time someone comes up with a new invention or solves a problem, or writes a symphony, they must use their imagination to do it. Our imagination is a vital element of our personhood. It is one of the elements of the “image of God” that he put in us to make us creatures like himself.
When it comes to developing our spiritual lives, our imagination is absolutely critical. That is because we are having to operate in, and interact with, an aspect of reality that is outside of our physical experience. We can’t see God with our physical eyes, hear him with our physical ears or touch him with our physical hands.
In interacting with God, though, we are not left purely to our imagination. We do not have to try and figure out on our own who God is, what he is like and what he wants with us. He has shared that information with mankind through the Bible. Obviously, there is more about God that we don’t know, and really can’t know as long as we are limited by our physical existence. But he has at least given us enough information to get us moving in the right direction . Based on what is written in Scripture, we are able to know the kinds of things which are necessary to interact with God in a personal and intimate relationship. It is those who try to imagine God outside of the parameters of his revelation who are using their imagination in a way that produces imaginary results.
So, what do we have here? God, who is pure spirit, has revealed himself to mankind, who is sprit but confined to a physical reality. He has shared with us who he is and how we can know him. It is our imagination which allows us to take the information God has revealed and translate it into concepts which allow us to bridge the physical – spiritual divide.
Let’s give one example. There are many more that we must wrestle with, and the process of doing that defines the boundaries of our spiritual growth. But this one example will at least make our point.
The Bible teaches us that God is personal and that we can interact with him in a personal relationship. We know what that looks like in a human relationship. But how do we conceive of ourselves personally interacting with a purely spiritual being? One way is to imagine God as having a physical body and, in our minds, to imagine that we are having an interaction with him. We can imagine standing next to him, hugging him and having a conversation with him.
This is a profound use of our imagination, but it is not imaginary. It would be imaginary if God were not a real person capable of interacting with us in a personal relationship. For instance, it is imaginary when a Mormon thinks of God as a being who used to be a human on another planet. There never was a God like that, even though they imagine it.
But if what the Bible teaches is true about God being personal, our images are not imaginary simply because we mentally picture him with a body that we can interact with. The imagination is simply a tool which helps us bridge the physical – spiritual gap. No matter how we picture him in our minds, he is actually there and we can actually talk and listen to him.
Using our imagination is a skill which must be developed. The point we need to understand is that there is a way for us to grasp the reality of God which allows us to interact with him vitally and personally. Learn to be comfortable using your imagination as a bridge to know God better.
© 2008 Freddy Davis