At Peace With Imagination

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3

The idea of being missional has quickly gained a place in the vocabulary of faith-driven Christians. It captures an idea that resonates with many kingdom-minded believers today—the mission of the church should affect all that we do in life.

It is time to do the same with the imagination. We should champion the idea of being an imaginal people, not just limited to the empirical and propositional, but shaped by the imago dei stamped on our spirits that allows us to imagine beyond the edges of our observable experience.

I am borrowing the term “imaginal” from a friend. Byron Spradlin is the director of Artists in Christian Testimony International in Nashville, TN, and teaches on imagination, the arts, and worship. I was reading his doctoral thesis recently and a Bible verse he commented on jumped off the page and exploded into what he calls my “imaginal intellect.”

Before I go there, though, I need to talk a little about Hebrew (just a little, I promise). I know Byron knows more Hebrew than I’ll ever know, so I’ll quote him from his April 12, 2012 Doctor of Ministry thesis for Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

“Yatsar means to fashion in the mind before forming in time and space. That is, to fashion in the mind also holds in its meaning the capacity to imagine, to invent, to form, to frame (in the mind’s eye); and the emphasis of the term is on the ability to see something—that could be real and true—in the mind’s eye BEFORE it is actually formed in time and space.”

In case you thought the imagination was just a modern idea, now you know there is a good Hebrew word for it. So now let’s take a look at the verse Byron referred to: “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3, NIV).

I’ve always heard that verse to mean that peace comes from mental discipline—having a strong faith, not wavering, believing without doubting. But Byron pointed out that Isaiah says God will give “perfect peace” to the one whose “yatsar is steadfast.” Steadfast is from a word that means to lean on, be firm, or support. So Isaiah says, literally, that God’s “shalom” will come to the one whose imagination is supported and firm.

In the larger context (25:6-26:6), Isaiah charges the people of Judah to imagine “that day” when God would “swallow up death for all time,…wipe tears away from all faces, and…remove the reproach of His people from all the earth” (25:8). He wanted them to yatsar a reality that was not yet real, but would be at a later point in time. Isaiah charged the people to exercise their imaginal intelligence, thinking beyond the capacity of their rational intelligence, trusting God to bring about in time and space what they could now only envision in their minds’ eyes.

If you’re still with me, I think I can hear the exhaled, “Yeah, okay, so what?” So here’s the so what.

Isaiah 26:3 is a wonderful parenting passage. It is a strong affirmation that your child’s imagination matters, because that is where faith begins. After all, if “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NIV), then a strongly supported imagination will enable your children to see in their mind’s eyes those things that they cannot see now but that God says are real. That is the very thing that “the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:2).

A child’s faith can easily settle into a pattern of acquiescence to propositional truth if Scripture is only a history lesson to be studied or a textbook of truth and doctrine to be learned. Strengthening the imagination of your child is part of the parental process of passing on to them a vital and vibrant faith. I believe it is part of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, to that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (1:18-19). Perhaps the steadfast imagination, the yatsar that Isaiah called for, is part of the enlightening of our heart-eyes that Paul prays. It enables all of us, your children included, to see the realities of his promises that give us hope, and perfect peace.

Thank God that he has given us an imaginal intellect. I can’t imagine what faith would look like without it. And neither can your children.

As posted on 06-08-2012