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God is not boring

His creation rings with wonders that those with imagination present

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ON JUNE 26, 1956, C.S. LEWIS ANSWERED A CHILD'S letter asking about how to write. His answer set me thinking about the imagination. He said, "In writing, don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the things you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us the thing is 'terrible,' describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was 'delightful'; make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, 'Please, will you do my job for me?'"

But imagination is not merely a device for writers, it is a duty for all Christians. We must exercise it or be disobedient. I don't say this because the world would be primitive without a thousand (valuable!) scientific discoveries, or drab without fresh ways of saying (and singing) things. No, imagination is a Christian duty for two more fundamental reasons.

One reason is that you can't apply Jesus' golden rule without imagination. He said, "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12). We must imagine ourselves in their place and imagine what we would like done to us. Compassionate, sympathetic, helpful love hangs much on the imagination of the lover.

The other reason imagination is a Christian duty is that presenting breathtaking truth in boring ways is 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. Imagination is the key to killing boredom. We must imagine ways to see the great truths for what they really are. And they are 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. It's the faculty that helps us show the world's horror as horrible. And in the mouth of a reverent genius, like C.S. Lewis, it makes the mysterious conceivable.

I just listened to Mere Christianity on tape. Here's an example of illuminating imagination. He said, imagine two books stacked on a table. The bottom holds up the top. It "causes" the top to be where it is. Now imagine that they have always existed in these positions-for all eternity. The top book never came to be in the position it is in, yet the bottom book may be said to "cause" the position of the top book. Similarly, God the Father may be thought of as the "cause" of God the Son. The Father begets the Son. But there never was a time when the Son was not. He knows such analogies are fraught with danger. But the lights that go on are worth the risk.

Imagination may be the hardest, most God-like work of the human mind. It is the closest we get to creation out of nothing. We must conceive something that has never existed before and does not now exist in any human mind. The imagination must exert itself to see something in our mind when it is not there. All of this we do, because we are like God and because He is infinitely worthy of ever-new words and songs.

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

Imagination is like a muscle. It grows stronger when you flex it. And you must 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 people (mainly dead poets) who are full of imagination. Then labor to say an old truth in awakening ways. God is worthy. "Oh sing to the Lord a new song"-or picture, or poem, or figure of speech. Flee the sin of boring people with the breathtaking glory of God.

John Piper

John contributes commentary and other pastoral reflections to WORLD. He is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. John has authored more than 50 books, including Don't Waste Your Life. John resides in Minneapolis, Minn.



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