Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.
Lately I have been obsessed with the writings of C.S. Lewis. I feel like I have been woken up from a 20-year nap with a Rip Van Winkle beard and new eyes, eyes that see through the lens of imagination.
Recent personal examples:
Reading Lewis’ The Great Divorce, I can actually imagine the Deep Heaven and the grey town (Hell).
Reading The Magician’s Nephew, I imagine the horrific evil eyes and curved mouth of Queen Jadis and sit in fearful awe of the majesty Sovereignty of Aslan (Jesus Christ).
Reading Perelandra (the second of Lewis’ Space Trilogy), I felt my imagination overtake me…in a way I haven’t experience since I read A Wrinkle in Time at the innocent age of 8.
To paint the landscape, here is the scene in Perelandra that literally shook my inner soul:
“There he (Ransom) stopped dead and stared at Weston (a man likely possessed by Satan), still clothed but without his pith helmet, was standing about thirty feet away: and as Ransom watched…..he was tearing a frog—quietly and almost surgically inserting his forefinger, with its long sharp nail, under the skin behind the creature’s head and ripping it open. Ransom had not noticed before that Weston had such remarkable nails. Then he finished the operation, threw the bleeding ruin away, and looked up. Their eyes met.
If Ransom said nothing, it was because he could not speak. He saw a man who was certainly not ill, to judge from his easy stance and the powerful use he had just been making of his fingers. He saw a man who was certainly Weston, to judge from his height and build and coloring and features. In that sense he was quite recognizable. But the terror was that he was also unrecognizable. He did not look like a sick man: but he looked very like a dead one. The face which he raised from torturing the frog had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it. The expressionless mouth, the unwinking stare of the eyes, something heavy and inorganic in the very folds of the cheek, said clearly: ‘I have features as you have, but there is nothing in common between you and me.’ It was this that kept Ransom speechless.”
Terrifying. Why? Because I used the muscles of my atrophied imagination. Weston is literally killing frogs—“just for the Hell of it”.
I am concerned that without the use of “sanctified imagination”, Christians today are too naturalistic, too humanistic and too materialistic.
Here is what I am challenged myself to do:
#1—Use my imagination more when I read scripture.
Imagine Jesus walking, talking, running and laughing….(I still am convince Jesus laughed, though scripture is silent about it)
Imagine Elisha cursing these arrogant, mouthy boys (who were making fun of his bald head), which led to mama bears ripping them to shreds (2 Kings 2:23-25).
Imagine Moses leaving the tent of meeting with his face lit up like a candle (Ex. 34:35).
Stop. Pray. Imagine. Meditate. Oh, the lost art of “sanctified imagination”!
#2—Use my imagination to think Heaven and Hell.
Randy Alcorn (author of Heaven) is helpful here:
He believes that Christoplatonism (i.e. heaven is viewed primarily as a spiritual entity) has had “a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth.”
“Trying to develop an appetite for a disembodied existence in a non-physical Heaven is like trying to develop an appetite for gravel. No matter how sincere we are, and no matter how hard we try, it’s not going to work. Nor should it.”
In other words, Christians ought to use their imagination when Isaiah states:
Isaiah 65:20-21 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
It is hard to spiritualize this, isn’t it? Rather….imagine it.
What about Hell? You may say, “I don’t want to imagine it.” Part of me would agree. But why then did Jesus say (on multiple occasions)....
Matthew 24:51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Graphic, disturbing….and yet avoidable.
Dante, in his classic work, The Inferno, takes the concept of imagination to its frightening end.
“Sinners who, in life, promoted scandals, schism, and discord are punished here; particularly those who caused schism within the church or within politics. They are forced to walk around the circumference of the circle bearing horrible, disfiguring wounds inflicted on them by a great demon with a sword. The nature of the wound mirrors the sins of the particular soul; while some only have gashes, or fingers and toes cut off, others are decapitated, cut in half (as schismatics), or are completely disemboweled.”
Is Dante correct? Probably not. But I certainly don’t want to go there….and I don’t want anyone else to go there either.
#3—Use my imagination to broaden my view of God.
This point is similar to #1, but why else would God condescend to us through the use of anthropomorphisms?
God is our Rock.
God is our Shield.
God is our Fortress.
God is our Judge.
God is my Deliverer.
God is my Helper.
God is our Warrior.
Think. Imagine. Be still.
Thank you C.S. Lewis for reminding me (at the age of 36) to use my imagination.