“Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make His beauty beautiful.”

by Todd Foley

The following is from Life as Vapor by John Piper. Read it, be encouraged and find inspiration.

One of the great duties of the Christian mind is imagination. It is not the only thing the mind does. The mind observes. The mind analyzes and organizes. The mind memorizes. But imagination is different. It does not observe or analyze what we see; it imagines what we can’t see, but what might really be there. Therefore it is very useful in science, because it helps turn up unseen explanations for things we don’t understand, and leads to all kinds of discoveries. Or it imagines a new way of saying things that no one has said before, as in the case of creative writing and music and art.

I say that imagination is a Christian duty [because] when a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and His amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, and communicated boringly. We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is. And it is not boring.

God’s world – all of it – rings with wonders. The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of His beauty beautiful.

Don’t mistake what I am saying. Poets and painters and preachers don’t make God’s beauty more beautiful. They make it more visible. They cut through the dull fog of our finite, fallible, sin-distorted perception, and help us see God’s beauty for what it really is. Imagination is like a telescope to the stars: It doesn’t make them big. They are already big without the telescope. It makes them look like what they are.

Imagination may be the hardest work of the human mind. And perhaps the most God-like. It is the closest we get to creation out of nothing. When we speak of beautiful truth, we must think of a pattern of words, perhaps a poem. We must conceive something that has never existed before and does not now exist in any human mind. We must think of an analogy or metaphor or illustration which has no existence. The imagination must exert itself to see it in our mind, when it is not yet there. We must create word combinations and music that have never existed before. All of this we do, because we are like God and because He is infinitely worthy of ever-new words and songs and pictures.

A college – or a church or a family – committed to the supremacy of God in the life of the mind will cultivate fertile imaginations. And, oh, how the world needs God-besotted minds that can say and play and paint the great things of God in ways that have never been said or sung or played or painted before.

Imagination is like a muscle. It grows stronger when you flex it. It does not usually put itself into action. It awaits the will. Imagination is also contagious. When you are around someone (alive or dead) who uses it a lot, you tend to catch it. So I suggest that you hang out with some people (mainly dead poets) who are full of imagination, and that you exert yourself to think up a new way to say an old truth. God is worthy. ‘Oh sing to the LORD a new song’ – or picture, or poem, or figure of speech, or painting.