Thursday, August 9, 2018

Failure of Imagination

Because our faith is unavoidably limited by the ways that we naturally and reflexively see and interact with the world, the single most valuable tool that we have in our hearts for engaging with God is our imagination.

That seems contrary to what we're often told about faith, which is something to the effect that it's best rooted in its strongest places. That faith is most meaningful when we're absolutely certain about it. That there is no room in faith for doubt or uncertainty or the inexplicable. After all, we can only believe what we actually believe, right?

Not exactly.

A real faith makes room for the mystery of God. It acknowledges that He exists beyond our own understanding of Him. It agrees with the Scriptures, which say that He acts beyond our wildest imaginations. If this is true, then we must have a faith that makes room for imagination so that we can begin to fathom just how big, just how good, just how glorious our God is.

This requires a couple of things. First, it requires that when we come upon anything in our faith that we labor to make sense of, that we make sense of it in two ways. We make sense of it in a way that is natural to us, a way that gels well with the way our hearts and minds and eyes naturally operate. This goes back to what we talked about yesterday, having an informed faith - a faith that comprehends what it believes.

But it also requires that we make sense of it in a way that we can't make sense of it. It requires that we confess that God exists beyond our imagination and that we labor to imagine what it might be like if God were to do it outside of what we can easily understand.

This is harder. It's the philosophical equivalent of saying, "Tell me something you're not thinking about right now." As soon as you answer, you refute yourself because as soon as you think of something you're not thinking about, you're thinking about it. In the same way, as soon as you imagine something beyond your imagination, you start to imagine it.

It makes God seem both bigger and nearer at the same time.

To be able to imagine in this way means that we have to be invested not only in the God that we know, but in the God that exists beyond what we know. We have to be so well-versed in His heart and His character and His goodness and His holiness that we can fathom something that He might do that is beyond what we would naturally understand without going so far as to become inconsistent with who He is.

In other words, we need an imagination in order to have a vital faith, but we cannot let our imagination run away with itself. We cannot let it go too wide. We have to use a solid understanding of God's very being to rein it in and to set boundaries for what we can dream.

For example, we should not be able to even imagine what it would mean if God were lying to us right now. God is truth; we know this about Him for certain. Therefore, He cannot possibly be lying to us. But it might take some imagination for us to understand how a particular truth weaves into the tapestry He's creating in our lives, which is His world.

Most of the troubles we have with God are not academic troubles, even for those of us prone to intellectualism as a theological error. Most of the troubles that we have with God are failures of imagination. We either don't have the ability to think of God beyond what our minds can comprehend of Him or else we think too widely and too broadly and end up somewhere outside of the very heart of who He is.

If we want a faith that is real, vital, and life-giving, we have to have a faith that imagines well. We have to risk saying that there is a God who makes sense outside of the sense that we are able to make of Him and to dream of what that might look like, sound like, smell like, be like, love like if that God were to act right now in accordance with who He is, even if I don't understand it.

And worst come to worst, we have to be able to say this and in the same breath confess that we're just not there yet, that we don't understand, that we can't, at least right now, fathom the mystery of God. And that's okay, too.

As long as we know it's still out there. It's still real. And vital. And life-giving. 

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