Faith & ImaginationBy Dan Vis
May 28, 2018
Note: The following article is adapted from my book The Moral Machinery. This book uses the sanctuary as a model to shed light on how the human mind works. The faculty of faith is one of four spiritual faculties described in the chapter entitled "Life in the Spirit". Copies can be obtained in our Online Store.
In the Bible, we are told "God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Romans 12:3For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.). That is, every person has some capacity to exercise faith. We may not understand exactly what faith is, or how it works, but it is a part of all of our lives. And it is perhaps the most important of all our faculties.
Consistently faith is described as a function of the heart. In fact, it has to be from the heart to be genuine. Intellectual assent to truth (the mind) is important, but unless truth is received into the heart, by faith—it does not change the life:
9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
Change comes to the life when the heart believes. I may be able to answer tough questions about some doctrinal topic, but that doesn’t mean I’ve internalized that truth into the core of my being. When the Ethiopian asked Philip, "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?", Philip answered, "If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest" (Acts 8:36-3736 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.). Faith must function from the heart, for it is a spiritual faculty.
In Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter, faith is actually described much like a spiritual sense organ. It begins with this definition: "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.). It then proceeds to describe various Bible characters who saw some spiritual reality by faith, that they could not see with their physical eyes. Noah was "warned of God of things not seen as yet" and prepared himself for the coming flood. Abraham journeyed seeking for a city "whose builder and maker is God." Moses "endured, as seeing him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:7,10,27By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. . . . For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. . . . By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.). In fact this is what they all shared in common. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them" (Hebrews 11:13These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.). They saw them through the eyes of faith.
Without this spiritual faculty, man has little hope of perceiving spiritual truth, regardless of intellect or education. When certain Jews rejected his message, he said the problem was not mental but spiritual. "the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted" (Acts 28:27For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.). Unbelievers walk "in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:17-1817 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:). That is, a blind heart leads to a darkened mind. In such situations, the faculty of faith becomes perverted into the faculty of imagination. "When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.).
This makes sense, if you think about it. Imagination, like faith, is the capacity to see things in our mind that we cannot see with our physical eyes. It is largely drawn from images stored in our memory, connected together in creative and often powerful ways. And imagination, like faith, is clearly connected with the heart. Before the flood, mankind is described in these words: "And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.). Two chapters later, after the flood had destroyed the earth, little had changed. "And the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21And the LORD smelled a sweet savor; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.). In other words, it is as if faith and imagination are really the same faculty. The only difference is faith dwells on that which is true, and imagination dwells on that which is false. It’s more a question of where this faculty is exercised.
In my study of the Bible, I have come across more than 30 references to imagination. In virtually every instance, it is used in a negative connotation: imagining mischief, wickedness, or evil. Men are imagining vain things, after their own heart, and against the Lord. We become "mighty through God" by "casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God" (II Corinthians 10:4-54 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;).
Because imagination is a spiritual faculty, it is closely connected to the heart. That is, where the imagination focuses has a direct impact on the character. When a person uses his imagination, for example, to "lust after" a woman, the Bible says, he "hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.). One does not need to commit the act to have a record of the act imprinted in the heart. He only needs to exercise the imagination. This is one reason popular entertainment is so dangerous. By watching sensuality, violence, and other forms of immorality repeatedly, it begins to impress itself on the character, without us ever having to do a single thing. We are being subtly reprogrammed. The enemy understands this principle well, and marshals the most brilliant minds possible to entice our youth into watching countless hours of video, reading fictional novels, playing computer games, and the like. His goal is direct access to the character. Through the imagination, he can bypass all the natural defenses of the mind: the reason, the emotions, and the will. We are being transformed by simply participating vicariously.
But if imagination is the wrong use of this faculty, it at least sheds some light on the right use of it. That is, it helps us to understand how faith can mold our character in the right direction. By consistently focusing the power of faith on the conceptualization of spiritual truths, those truths can be internalized, imprinted into the tables of the heart. Stumbling on to the following statement, was a turning point for me in my understanding of faith:
As your soul yearns after God, you will find more and still more of the unsearchable riches of His grace. As you contemplate these riches, you will come into possession of them. God's Amazing Grace, p. 187
Did you catch that? By engaging that faculty which enables us to contemplate God’s unsearchable riches, we come into possession of them. We are transformed. Faith is the capacity to visualize unseen spiritual reality. This is what Paul meant, when he said "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (II Corinthians 5:7(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)).
As Christians we need to learn more about how to exercise this faculty. When Jesus taught, He used stories that would call out the imagination. Or in this case, we could say faith, because He was trying to paint a picture of eternal, spiritual realities. In other words, Jesus was speaking more to the heart than to the mind. Parables such as the lost sheep, the pearl of great price, the mustard seed, and the ten virgins, were all calculated to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom in simple but powerful language. They engaged more than just reason—they engaged the heart. As the two men on the road to Emmaus put it, when describing how Jesus taught, "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?). It was this ability to inspire faith, to quicken the heart, that made His messages so powerful. We need more preaching and teaching like this today!
We must learn to study the Scriptures with the heart. To fully engage what we read by faith. To enter into the experience of the passage. The words must move us. Grasp the realities of it. Use the imagination to embrace every scene. Lay hold of spiritual truth until it burns within the heart. The word of God must be a living breathing book if it is to impact the life.
The Bible should be thought of as a book of grand mysteries. Mysteries that exceed our ability to fully comprehend them. In fact, that is what makes them a "mystery"—the fact they exceed the powers of reason. Only the heart can grasp them. Take the mystery of godliness: God becoming a man. Or the mystery of iniquity: man making himself God. These are profound themes, with profound implications. And the mystery of the resurrection: when mortality puts on immortality, in the twinkling of an eye. Can you imagine what that will be like? Or the mystery of the Gospel: the power of the resurrection available to me personally, right now, this instant. The cross will be a topic we will study throughout eternity and never exhaust. These mysteries and many others, fill the pages of the Bible. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out" (Romans 11:33O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!).
We are not talking about things theologians "figure out." Paul said, it was "by revelation [God] made known unto me . . . the mystery of Christ" (Ephesians 3:3,5How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, . . . Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;). God illuminates the heart with the light of His own glory. It is the working of His Spirit in our heart. These are truths that must be grasped spiritually. There is no other way to truly embrace them. They must be received by faith.
Just as the two cherubim on either side gaze endlessly into the mystery of the visible presence of God, so we too must learn to turn the eyes of faith toward Christ. By beholding we will become changed. We will be transformed into the same image. In contemplation of such a mystery, what worldly entertainment compares? All else pales in the light of His glory and grace. Lord, grant us faith!
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CommentsHow important is it to conceptualize spiritual truths with our mind? How can we cultivate and develop this power? Why is faith essential to Bible study? How does it bring Bible study to life?
|Posted by Dan Vis on 06/07/18|
|That's the point exactly Valerie. God gave us an amazing gift when He created us with this faculty. So important that we learn to use it right!|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 05/30/18|
|Thank you for sharing your personal experience Ann! It is indeed important that we use discretion in how we exercise our faith/imagination. It's a powerful faculty, with great potential to strengthen or weaken us.|
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