Recently I wrote an article on Marriage Equality, and a 500 word summary article was published in the May Edition of the Local Diocesan Paper. This month there is a response from someone whom, I believe, is opposed to the matter and she commences her letter ‘Does Philip Barrington worship the God of his imagination?” Clearly that was indeed not intended as a question, but rather as a mock, and she goes on and ultimately suggests that I am flaunting my self-interest and denying the teaching of the Gospel. Well I am pleased that she read the article and I am sorry If I have offended her, however I was not expecting a response to be aimed personally, and I wonder if part of it reflects on other recent things in the press and the response is more cumulative rather than particular. Regardless, I have no doubt that she has her reasons for the response, a right to her views and for that I honour her.
The question she poses is however more interesting that I first thought – Do we worship the God of our imagination?
The First Act of Creation
The first act of creation is an interesting thought, for in proverbs chapter 8 we are told it is wisdom, in Genesis chapter 1 the wind of God moves over the waters and God says ‘let there be light’ and so the first day came to be. Nonetheless it seems the precursor to any creative act is imagination, otherwise all you have is an accident. Paulo Freire in his book Pedagogy of the oppressed argues that liberation for peoples is only possible following an education that gives them the capacity to imagine a better future, to dream of freedom and strive to accomplish it. The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus has many elements, one of which was that with the imagination of all that could be accomplished so that Jesus had to strength of will to face all he had to endure for the redemption of the world. It seems inconceivable to conceive that God created without imagination.
Let us create … in our image and after our likeness
The Genesis account goes on to the sixth day for the cremation of humanity where we are created ‘in the image and after the likeness of God, male and female’. It would be fairly crude to suggest that a person is a painting of God, especially given our diversity, however it does suggest that as his creation we bear something of the hallmarks of God. Part of that would seem to be the capacity to imagine and create, which most surely as a species we have been very adept at doing. It would seem our imagination, and our capacity for imagination is indeed part of the indelible hallmark of our creation.
Lord of All
As Christians, certainly, and I think all the Children of Abraham in some sense, would assert and affirm that God is Lord of all. Indeed it seems a theological imperative, for otherwise God can only be finite. The assertion of God as Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent seems to require a sense of awe, a sense of God over all, and a sense of God without confines and limits. If I am to suggest that God is not God of my imagination am I indeed limiting God’s capacity to be part of my whole life? Equally of course if I was to limit God to the confines of my imagination I may be suggesting that God was conceptual and in some sense not yet realised.
What sort of Theology could you have without imagination?
I am not sure because I have never done it. Indeed I doubt that I could do it. Much of the writing of scripture is designed to fire the imagination to see more that we see, to dream more that we dream, and to be better than we are. The alternative I guess is to see the Bible as the rule book, to codified statute, and to try to extract from it all the regulations and guidelines so that we live within the safe route. Yet the way of the cross does not seem a safe route. The following after Jesus does not see to be the road of safe choices. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about following the law and missing the point (Luke 11:42) it seems he was talking about the heart, and the principle rather than the letter, and that seems to ask us to use our imagination.
I ran across a nice quite from Mark Twain recently, ‘You can not depend on you eyes when your imagination is out of focus.’ As a photographer (not particularly gifted) I know how frustrating it is when everything about a photo is good, and it is a nice photo, but somehow it has not worked because it lacked imagination, the ‘X’ factor, that peculiar implacable dimension that just makes it work.
God of my Imagination
God is the the God of my imagination, and that is the God I worship, – not three incomprehensibles but one incomprehensible, and the God I worship is not limited by my imagination. May we ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.’ (2 Peter 3:18)