I have a dangerous, wonderful, crazy, useful, lovely, sinful, redeemed imagination. Yeah, go ahead and parse that if you like, but those are just a handful of the words I use to describe my imagination. Coming through a life of utter and total depravity, coming through a life where everything was slanted, off-kilter, broken, and difficult, my mind developed in a rather unique way. I was in trouble for a very long time as a child. That sentence might not make sense at first, but it’s pretty much just as I have written it. There was a two year period where I was confined to my room, or doing chores, more often than I wasn’t. (That makes me sound like a prisoner but really I was just grounded more than anything.) I spent that time, or a majority of it, reading. I learned to grow my imagination and let it take me out of my confinement.
So that all said, I believe that imagination is a component of good theology.
I just heard the gasps of a thousand reformed people getting the vapors. But hear me out on this.
Imagination doesn’t require invention. What does that mean? Well, how many alien movies or books or comic books or videogames contain aliens that are not, at least somewhat, bipedal and humanoid? I am a huge sci-fi fan. I watched the only relevant Star Trek shows when I was a child. And even so, just about every alien ever encountered was a human being, wearing makeup. A Star Trek episode where they encountered a planet that was uninhabitable for humans, was entirely populated by a single kind of bacteria, would be the most boring television. No one would watch people on a ship orbiting said planet, studying the bacteria.
So to conceive of the bacteria requires invention and imagination. To conceive of a human-like creature with bigger than normal ears, or teeth or hair… well, that just requires a little imagination.
Good theology requires us to imagine what could be. Even if we don’t invent said thing, it is helpful for us to picture something different than what is. How could we understand our salvation, if not for metaphor? There aren’t legal documents for it. There aren’t physical indicators of it. There requires, at least to some degree, imagination.
The problem falls on either end of the spectrum, as it most often does. On one side, there’s the over-active: I bet God is just a really smart computer from a different galaxy. On the other side, there’s the under-active: God can only be like things I can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. Imagination, redeemed imagination, allows us a critical piece of theology that is, if not impossible, exceptionally difficult without it: awe.
God is the only truly awesome thing in our universe. He created all the other awesome things. And I mean that in the real sense of the word awesome. Not awesome like a hot dog might be awesome.
God created the Grand Canyon. Intentionally, and in some ways, coincidentally. He has a layout and design for my subatomic particles. He built a cloud of water vapor into our galaxy with more water in it than 28 galaxies worth of water. These are all awe inspiring. And they speak of a God who is both beyond our imagining and is still accessible to His creation. Our imagination, when made alive again by the power of the Holy Spirit, sends us on an infinite chase of God Himself. It doesn’t tell us wrong things about God, but gives us greater and greater thirst to know God Himself.
I don’t usually put old content beneath the fold, but I felt it was a relevant pairing. This is a post I wrote, three years ago, when I was pastoring:
There is a quote by C.S. Lewis that I love and that has made its way around Christian circles forever. And it has begun sparking something in my brain of late that I need to put down and explore and try to reveal for you the very bigness of Jesus.
Here’s the original quote,
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”― C.S. Lewis
So the basic principle at play here is very easy to see. Our desires are weak, small things and impossibly finite. But we serve an infinite, massive God who can give us so much more. I assume we’re tracking but I need to try and show you how big from the scripture. So let’s let Brother John give us a poetic and yet massive view of our God.
 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5 ESV)
Good? Nice little poetic image of God, no? Okay, let’s pair it up with a different image now that’s a bit more literal.
 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25 ESV)
Okay, so John tells us in his gospel that the light, Jesus, shines in the darkness and that the darkness has not overcome it. And that’s amazing, on its own, but we need to understand this from an actual cosmological point. In Revelation the idea that John gives us about the New Heavens and New Earth is that it will require no celestial illumination. This is a somewhat weird thought to most folks but I have a weird brain that grabs ahold of things and combines them in seemingly unrelated ways.
So as I was thinking on these verses, today, I began wondering, “Just how much of our universe is dark? How much space is there between our stars?” So according to NASA, about 95% of our universe is dark. Big whoop, right? I mean, we have a nighttime. We have darkness. Whether that 95% is dark matter or dark energy is actually entirely beside the point. It’s dark, y’all. But I want you to imagine what it would require to change 95% of the universe from dark into light.
Can you actually conceive of that kind of raw power? With the Law of Conservation of Energy, we have to understand that as we understand it, energy can neither be created nor destroyed but only have its form changed. One day the darkness, whether energy or matter, will become light. Has it ever occurred to you that John wasn’t just whistling Dixie here? That our God is big enough to have created something we can’t accurately measure and then, one day, will change the fundamental majority of everything we know and understand in His restoration of His creation? That brings me such awe and quite frankly staggers my mind.
We all suffer from a serious case of God shrinking. If God is who scripture says He is, and has done what scripture has says He has done, and will do what scripture says He will do… how can we not worship Him?