The Power of Imagination

In Graham Greene’s novel Power and Glory, we find the following comment: “Hatred is a failure of imagination.” I believe that we could say the same about all the cousins of hatred—prejudice, intolerance, partiality, parochialism, racism, homophobia, assumptions of superiority, close-mindedness, chauvinism of all sorts, jingoism, etc. Behind all these attitudes is a failure to imagine an alternative to what is within us and in our world.

Increasingly as I reflect on the teachings and example of Jesus, I am convinced our Lord attempted, (and still attempts through the Spirit) to create an alternative community to the tired, violent, greedy, self-hating, and visionless world of his time. Where others would practice a religion of holiness whereby they were pure and acceptable to God but others were impure and rejected, Jesus presented the alternative of a religion of compassion. In doing so, he was not overlooking the reality of our sin. He was simply unmasking the sin of those who assumed they were pure and holy enough to make eternal judgments about their brothers and sisters. Where others practiced a politics of power and deception (sound familiar?), Jesus presented a politics of service and truth. Where others practiced an economics of self-interest if not unbridled greed, Jesus presented the alternative of sharing and even redistribution according to need. And where others practiced a family orientation of “me and mine,” Jesus redefined family and identified himself with “the least of these” thereby making the marginals, outcasts, hungry, and different his family and ours. How we see and treat them is how we see and treat the Lord. (“When you did it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40)

Behind all these alternatives was Jesus’ assumption of the Kingdom of God. God was present and acting in a decisive way as the future of that blessed community promised by the prophets and long awaited by the faithful invaded the present. God was in the midst of those first-century Jews bringing about a new creation. The source of the alternative Jesus preached and lived was God Almighty in solidarity with humankind. Nothing need remain the same. Indeed, nothing could remain the same. The blessed community was anchored in the heart of God and was by God’s grace creation’s destiny. Rather than suffering the fate of a world void of imagination, the alternative community beheld all things, all people, and all situations new.

There is much talk about the need for a revival in the church today. The only revival I believe worth pursuing is one which is willing to be embraced by the divine imagination of a new creation. We need the alternatives Jesus offered just as much as those early disciples did. We need not remain paralyzed and stunted by our stymied hopes and defeatist expectations. If we believe “the Kingdom of God” is upon us, then heaven is literally the limit to what we can experience in concert with God. What we only now can imagine can become reality.

What God is waiting for and what our world is waiting for (even if it does not recognize it) is for the church to live out of the Kingdom of God. Such faithful living is not possible for those who prefer the status quo or a future which is simply more of the same. Such faithful living is possible only among those willing to “seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness”—in other words, among those willing to labor with Jesus in making God’s imagination a flesh and blood reality “on earth as it is in heaven.”

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