Christians often talk about actively changing the world, but too often, we just sit still and passively watch the struggles of others without participating, leading, or caring. We don’t love.
Why? Because many Christians have an inability to use their imaginations.
People who can’t imagine are susceptible to bigotry, racism, hatred, and violence toward others. Why? Because they can’t imagine any other scenario, perspective, or opinion other than their own. They have an inability to see themselves in someone else’s shoes. They can’t see beyond their own narrow reality.
When you can’t imagine, you can’t empathize, understand, or relate with the actions, struggles, pain, suffering, persecution, and trials of others — you become apathetic, unmoved, stoic, and inactive.
Whether our differences are gender-related, age-related, race-related, culturally related, politically related, economically related, socially related, theologically related, value-related, or related to any countless number of factors, overcoming them requires imagination.
When you can’t imagine, you can’t celebrate, appreciate, admire, and joyfully love others. You disconnect yourself from humanity.
Imagination leads to empathy, empathy leads to understanding, understanding leads to action, action leads to experience, and experience leads to wisdom — which leads to even more imagination.
This is why travel, exploration, dialogue, listening, building relationships, engaging, reading, learning, and keeping an open mind is so important — it helps expands people’s imagination. Because once you see, hear, interact, and experience something, you suddenly imagine it much better.
And realistically, we can’t experience everything — even if we try. So we must imagine.
When imagination is missing, the void is filled with preconceptions, stereotypes, assumptions, biases, prejudices, and presuppositions. Imagination unlocks our potential to gain knowledge and understanding, to go beyond our comfort zones.
Choosing to utilize our imagination requires risk, vulnerability, and bravery, and it’s often easier to ignore — and avoid — the suffering of others instead of empathizing and communally adopting the sufferings of others as our own.
It’s not easy.
Christianity isn’t meant to be a form of passive escapism. Following Jesus means embracing others — everyone: family, friends, enemies, and strangers. But we can’t do this without using our imagination.
Imagination is essential to faith. Imagination is a spiritual gift — a spiritual discipline to be practiced daily.
It’s impossible to follow God without imagination. Just read through the Bible:
An ark and global flood, a burning — talking — bush, a talking donkey, a man surviving inside the belly of a whale, giants, plagues of frogs, water being turned into blood, water being turned into wine, the parting of a sea, visions, miracles, and numerous unbelievable events.
God becoming a man, being killed through crucifixion, and then being raised from the dead three days later!
God embodies imagination. It’s a Divine trait.
Following Christ’s example by serving the world around us requires immense amounts of sacrifice, discomfort, and humility. Talking to others about racism, injustice, inequality, spirituality, violence, abuse, and the really deep, important, and meaningful things about life is hard, uncomfortable, messy, and awkward. But it’s within these moments that we learn to love — where we realize that everyone is created in the image of God.
Obviously, imagination can also be used for evil. In fact, we often associate imagination more with sin than with righteousness. We warn about guarding our minds from depravity and not letting our thoughts wander towards lust, superficial riches, prideful glory, or an array of other sins.
But the danger within Christian culture is to quell imagination, to turn our faith into a list of answers and clear-cut formulas. We leave no room for complexity, grey areas, or doubt. When this happens we prefer preaching over teaching, indoctrination over revelation, and propaganda over learning.
Unfortunately, this causes us to migrate toward communities that share the exact same belief systems, lifestyles, values, and backgrounds as ourselves. We shy away from diversity and anything that is unfamiliar, new, or goes against our preferences.
Imagination is discouraged, quelled, and destroyed.
Our faith devolves into a homogeneous pattern, which we often protect at all costs.
This is why many Christians simply sit on the sidelines. It’s safe, comfortable, and easy. It avoids the messiness of life. We reject our imaginations because we’re scared of what we might see, feel, and experience. For many, our reality is all we’ve ever known, and it’s all we ever want to experience.
Why would we want to understand the harsh reality of others? Because Jesus commands us to. He humbly loved everyone and sacrificially devoted his life to serving those who were radically different from him. If only Christians could do the same.
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.
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