Have you seen that quote before by Henry Ward Beecher? ‘Faith is spiritualized imagination’ When I first read it many years ago I don’t recall having a positive reaction. I felt I needed to push back for some reason – but I am not sure I knew why. However, I have come to realise that our imagination matters and it’s part of us as image-bearers of God. So let’s ponder this for a moment shall we?
The flesh is shaped by Satan’s web of deception that deeply infects our imaginations. This is why it has such power to move us to perform in order to obtain life and then to hide our failures when we fall short of true life. And of course the end result is destruction.
Satan’s deception is anchored in powerful, imaginative misrepresentations of reality, and until these lies are confronted with truth (as explored in this post) in ways that are at least as vivid and powerful as the misrepresentations, the lies of the flesh will continue to dominate our lives. Until this happens, our experienced self-identity, our old self, will continue to exercise a strong influence in our lives, suppressing the truth about who we are in Christ. We are new creations in Christ (2 Cor 5:17), but if this truth is believed in the form of mere information while the old self is continually experienced in vivid imaginative ways, we will find it nearly impossible to display our new nature consistently.
One of the most fundamental problems with contemporary Western Christianity is that we have lost the positive spiritual use of our imagination. So many of us only know Christ intellectually. We know and experience the web of deception imaginatively and vividly, but often this is not how we experience our Christianity.
For many, faith is little more than intellectual assent to certain propositions and a commitment to live a certain way. So is it surprising that our experienced self-identity continues to reflect more the pattern of this world rather than conformity to Jesus Christ?
Is it surprising that our old self seems more real than all the incredible things Scripture says about our new self?
If our faith is going to be powerful and transformative, it is going to have to be imaginative and experiential. St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, wrote “It is not knowing a lot but grasping things intimately and savouring them that fills and satisfies the soul.” Memories shape us profoundly because we grasp them and savour them not as information, but “intimately.” This is the manner in which we need to embrace our faith if it is to satisfy our souls and transform our lives.
It’s a wonderful thing to know that God is love (1 John 4:16), but this information will not significantly impact us until we can intimately grasp and savour the truth that God loves us individually. It’s a wonderful thing to know that Jesus died for the world, but this information will not significantly impact the way that we experience ourselves and the world until it becomes vivid, experiential, and personalized. I need to be able to savour in a concrete way the truth that Jesus died for me, that he loves me to this unfathomable degree, and that I am completely forgiven.
This involves the imagination.
We need to imagine truth and savour it; only then can the flesh that holds us in bondage be broken. We need to see pictures of grace in our minds and savour them; only then can grace break our flesh-driven compulsion to perform. We need to engage imaginatively in the unconditional love of God; only then can it break our flesh’s need to hide.
When we do these things, we will find ourselves savouring wholeness and life, our new identity in Christ, rather than death and destruction.