How Important is Imagination to Faith?

Since the beginning of time, there have been reports of visions and encounters with the divine. Christian texts would have us test these claims with the Word of God and alongside the community of faith. But, what happens when these stories are taken for granted and promoted for profit? Our fear of being duped can discourage us to have an imagination for faith. To keep a Christian perception, we must continue to invent ways to capture the Kingdom of God in the present world and the one to come.

Recently, there have been several articles going around about the book, and movie, The boy who came back from heaven. This book was acclaimed to be a true story of, Alex Malarkey, a boy who was victim to a tragic accident. While he was recuperating, he reportedly had encounters with Jesus and saw glimpses of his Kingdom.

Unfortunately, Alex has renounced these visions and such accounts. As so, his story truly lived up to his last name, Malarkey. This has been yet another case of Christians and publishers profiting off of a professed revelation. But, what lessons should this give us as a Christian community and how does it shape our feelings towards writing about the afterlife?

Christians must test experiences and revelations

Not much more can be said about the importance of correct teaching and guidance than what Paul has already laid out (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus). Christians must bring their experiences to the Word of God and his people. Together, we test and approve what God’s will is. Truth is not found in one’s eyes, or in a personal silo. Rather, it is shared among many people and their individual perspectives.

Christians must have an imagination for capturing the Kingdom of God in the present world and the one to come

Another unfortunate consequence of this Malarkey is that it extinguishes the light from Christians’ imagination about the afterlife. My fear is that dubious accounts like this will make us shy away from thinking up ways that heaven may look. Our creativity in thinking about what happens to us after we die has dropped significantly since the enlightenment. We have traded creativity for the scientific method. Great writers from Origen of Alexandria to C. S. Lewis have all dreamed about these wonders and given us fanciful depictions of what this might look like. Here are some great texts that take some liberty in painting that picture for us:

  • The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
  • Little Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
  • Or any other great piece of media

Obviously, these texts should not be taken as scripture or at face value. Any truths obtained from them should be in reference to the Word of God, but we must continue to imagine how God can work in this world and the next. As Christians, we must be rooted in the Word but continue to use our imaginations to bring it to life.

Please comment and subscribe to keep the conversation going! -JF

3 thoughts on “How Important is Imagination to Faith?

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  1. I would have never thought about “coming back from Heaven” stories as squashing our imagination. You are right that many of the literary greats imagined the afterlife and not one got made (well, somebody probably got mad—Dante threw a Pope into Hell!).

    In the church of Christ tradition of going back to the Bible, we aren’t given much room to imagine the afterlife. The Bible is frustratingly vague. And so while we are told heaven will be good, we aren’t told why it’s good. Maybe creative imagination would help people look forward to it (as long as they know this earth matters too!).

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    1. I just think that if false accounts of visiting or going to heaven are unsurfaced then people will be more dismissive of the topic in general.

      I definitely agree that we should value the afterlife as well as the earth. Imagination should find how God can interact in both. Today there’s a huge amount of dystopian literature being written, what would it look like to have this power in something a bit more positive and redemptive?

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      1. Good point about using literature for more redemptive purposes. As an aspiring author, I’ll get right on it!

        But I worry about being perceived wrong. I just wrote an article tangentially tied to this one.

        https://jakedoberenz.com/why-blasphemy-is-good/

        In it, I argue for more creative approaches in Christian literature, like Good Omens and Dante’s Divine Comedy. But I have to argue FOR it, because many Christians are quick to dismiss it. They don’t like the imaginative element your article described. They call it blasphemy.

        So I’ll get right in writing the imaginative literature you desire, but I pray certain Christians are able to see it’s worth and not dismiss it outright for not being “correct.”

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