Imagination is defined as, "The faculty of imagining or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses."
For privileged Christians who have lived the majority of their lives receiving the benefits of systematic wealth, power, comfort, favor, and convenience, it can be almost impossible to conceive of a world where injustice, inequality, and perpetual oppression are daily struggles.
Many privileged believers experience an entire existence completely devoid of the suffering, trials, and endless forms of racism, stereotyping, and injustice that are the daily realities faced by the likes of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and millions of others who have lived under completely different — and radically unfavorable — circumstances.
Thus when parties from both sides try to communicate with one another, it is extremely difficult, frustrating, and nearly impossible to even begin to comprehend each other’s worlds — unless you utilize the spiritual discipline of imagination.
In the Bible, Jesus is constantly challenging the status quo and striving for justice, peace, and reconciliation against cultural factors and precedents that seem impossible to overcome. For the human vessels that God calls upon, they are required to imagine the inconceivable, accept the unthinkable, and break out of their stubborn paradigms in order to embrace the Divine.
Imagine the sea being parted, walking on water, feeding the 5,000, being healed of leprosy, encountering a talking donkey, a talking (burning) bush, and rising from the dead.
Systematic social, cultural, financial, political, gender, and racial boundaries are being utterly transformed by Jesus — and he’s commanding his disciples and followers to be a part of this amazing destruction of everything they’ve ever known, been taught, and have cemented into their consciousness. God is asking them — sometimes forcing them — through the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit to imagine.
Imagine a poor shepherd boy being anointed king, a Samaritan (traditionally despised during Jesus’s time) as being good, the Jews reconciling with the Gentiles, a carpenter's son being the Divine Savior of the world, the poor becoming rich, slaves becoming free, children being just as respected as adults, women being just as respected as men, and Saul becoming Paul.
The heroes of the Bible were the ones who were brave enough to imagine God fulfilling God's promises — of doing the absurdly impossible and believing in possibilities, actions, events, and miracles beyond their comprehension.
Unfortunately, institutionalized Christianity doesn’t take imagination very seriously. There are few Bible studies, sermons, classes, or spiritual retreats revolving around the concept of imagining.
Instead, Christians have often been taught that imagination is something superficial — related to make-believe fairy tales and fiction. But the discipline of imagination is a vital spiritual practice, one where God requires us to think of the possible good that exists beyond our limited scope of experience and knowledge.
Once we imagine, we can break out of our comfort zones and become free from our narrow-mindedness. It allows us to witness, comprehend, and feel what others are going through. Imagination unlocks understanding, which leads to empathy, which leads to compassion, which leads to action.
For those who are privileged, please try to imagine.
Imagine that you just might not comprehend the full truth of what others are going through.
Imagine being in Trayvon Martin’s, Michael Brown’s, and Eric Garner’s circumstances.
Imagine being faced with injustice on a daily basis.
Imagine living an entirely different existence, completely opposite of your own.
Imagine living in someone else’s shoes, valuing their values, holding their beliefs, and espousing their social, cultural, racial, religious, and economic realities.
Imagine every human as being created in the image of God — as being a brother and sister, a family member passionately loved by Jesus.
Visualize the different circumstances, along with all the emotions, hardships, struggles, and injustices that you’ve probably never had to consistently face. Close your eyes and pretend to be someone else — go beyond your confined experiences.
This is what Christianity is all about: not imagining something fake or unreal, but imagining in order to better understand God’s truth — becoming enlightened to the redeeming plan God has for humanity.
Additionally, this is why relationship-building, participating in dialogue, actively engaging, and listening to those fighting for justice is so important — because they inform, direct, and edify our imagination.
The friendships, relationships, accounts we witness, testimonies we listen to, books we read, and stories we hear allow us to have a better picture, perspective, and understanding of others. So even if we don’t experience injustice or inequality first-hand, we’re at least given the ability to imagine its reality, accept its existence, empathize with its victims, and comprehend truths we weren’t previously aware of.
Imagination doesn’t hide or replace truth — it helps reveal it.
Imagination provides hope, because it helps us trust in the unseen reality of God’s goodness, enabling us to believe He will change the reality of any present injustice and will ultimately overcome evil.
Imagination provides humility, because it allows our minds to accept the idea that we may not know everything, might be wrong, and that wisdom exists beyond our own opinions.
Imagination provides empathy, because it helps us relate to others regardless of whether we’ve shared their same experiences.
Imagination provides wisdom, because it allows us to accept things we haven’t considered.
Imagination provides inspiration, because it provides God-ordained ideals to strive for.
Imagination provides love, because it helps us see everyone as made in the image of God — equally loved regardless of race, religion, or creed.
As followers of Christ who are called to bring about peace, grace, forgiveness, justice, equality, restoration, redemption, empowerment, and love, one of the most important spiritual tools we’ve been given is our imagination.
God has a divine purpose for your life. Imagine that.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com.He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org , and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at theUniversity of Northwestern–St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter@mikta.