My husband and I sat together watching a sweet movie where a relationship was unfolding between a young girl, an aspiring story-teller, and her new neighbor, an older disillusioned novelist. She asked him to teach her about imagination, and maybe her earnestness inspired him, because he had a small creative spark left. He told her to look at the empty, dusty street stretching in front of them and describe what’s not there. The girl squinted up the street in confusion, and I chuckled inwardly at what I thought was a cheesy line.
But later that evening it got me thinking: what if we take it a step further? What is not there… but should be? That is a holy imagination. It’s looking at the world around us and sifting through the pain and the horrors and the drudgery that should not be there, that came from the Fall. It’s perceiving the beauty and wonder that should be there because God embedded them in creation to begin with. God’s perfect creation has been dreadfully marred, but it will be restored when Jesus returns. Until then, in this in-between time, our service and art and parenting and fight for justice and upkeep of things, are all about bringing to the forefront the goodness and glory of our God.
Holy imagination is not about denying reality or burrowing into an insulated fantasy. It’s not about skimming over life like a rock skipping across a lake, pretending that the hard things are no more than mist. We slog through the depths of suffering with the courage that comes from knowing that the Spirit of the Living God goes with us. Even when we find ourselves in a grateful season of peace, love demands that we help bear the burdens of the body of Christ, sitting with our brothers and sisters in the pain of harsh realities that should never have been.
But let us not lose sight of the end result. It’s not wishful thinking to long for the day of restoration; it’s the very premise of hope. On that day, Jesus will return as glorious King. The dead will be raised and all will be judged. Those who trust in the Lamb will have everlasting life with Him, and God will join heaven and earth in a perfect, everlasting paradise. He will restore everything, making it new—new like the old was meant to be. We wait and hope for no more pain; for beauty that outshines the ugliness—in fact, no ugliness at all, nor any need to dwell on it again. There will be fruitfulness and wholeness: Shalom, the rightful conqueror, invading every cell of our bodies, every atom of the cosmos. We will drink from the spring of the water of life. We will behold the Lamb of God.
So how do we pre-imagine (or re-imagine) this shalom? How does it make any difference in our lives and in our spheres of influence? We believe it and teach it to our children in all the ways things can be taught. We search for glimpses of it and create things that point to it. We rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, because both of those are real in this already-but-not-yet time. We pursue the hard path of righteousness and justice in our aching but tenderly-loved world. We worship our Lord and invite all the nations to join in the song of God’s people.
Let’s train our imaginations to see what is not there, but will be one day when all our hopes are realized. Let’s live like restoration and glory are true, knowing that they are more true than anything else. Let’s plod along in our mundane routines with our hearts fixed on this as-yet-unseen reality, more brilliantly shining than the noon summer sun.