For people benefitting from systematic wealth, power, comfort, favor, and convenience, it can be difficult to relate to the constant and endless forms of racism, stereotyping, and injustice that are experienced by others.
The privileged don’t experience the daily realities faced by the likes of Walter Scott, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and millions of others who have lived under completely different — and radically unfavorable — circumstances.
This is why Christians — no matter what your background — must passionately engage in such things as relationship-building, participating in dialogue, and actively reading, experiencing, and listening to various perspectives. Because doing this informs, directs, and edifies one of the most powerful spiritual tools we have: our imagination.
Imagination is defined as the faculty of imagining or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses.
Friendships, personal accounts, testimonies, books, footage, stories, and experiences empower us to have a better picture, perspective, and understanding of others. Even if we don’t personally struggle with the same types of injustice and inequality that others do, 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.
In the Bible, Jesus is constantly challenging the status quo and striving for justice, peace, and reconciliation against cultural factors and precedents that seem impossibleto overcome. For the individuals 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 and a talking (burning) bush, and rising from the dead.
Systematic boundaries — social, cultural, financial, political, gender, and racial — 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, 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 possiblegood that exists beyond our limited scope of experience and knowledge.
Once we dare to imagine, we can break out of our comfort zones and become free from our narrow-mindedness and ignorance. Imagination enables us to witness, comprehend, and feel what others are going through. Imagination births understanding, which creates empathy, which leads to compassion, which ultimately inspires action.
Today, in the midst of racism, prejudice, inequality, and numerous forms of injustice, please try to imagine.
Imagine what others are going through.
Imagine being in Walter Scott’s, Trayvon Martin’s, Michael Brown’s, and Eric Garner’s circumstances.
Imagine constantly experiencing injustice and inequality.
Imagine living an entirely different existence, completely opposite of your own.
Imagine living in someone else’s shoes, embracing their social, cultural, racial, religious, and economic realities.
Imagine every single person as being created in the image of God — passionately loved by Jesus.
Visualize the different circumstances, along with all the emotions, hardships, struggles, and injustices that you’ve 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 fully understand God’s truth — becoming enlightened to God’s redeeming plan for humanity.
Imagination doesn’t hide or replace truth — it reveals it.
Imagination provides hope, because it helps us trust in the unseen reality of God’s goodness, enabling us to believe God 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 seeeveryone 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, a way for you to make this world a better place. 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 the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.