Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson
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Our Need for Imagination

Theologian Karl Barth once said that a person without imagination is more of an invalid than one who lacks a leg. Imagination is the capacity to envision a world beyond the obvious. “That’s what Biblical writers do, and that’s why people show up at church. We want to know whether there is any other world available than the one we can see, which we can hardly bear.”

It is hard to bear this present world with its pandemic, its polarization, and the rising alienation that is creating havoc in relationships. We have become a culture of grievance. Each side plays the victim, and that makes reconciliation difficult, if not impossible. The good news is that there is a world beyond the one we can see, where healing and harmony exist; the bad news is that we have become so fixed on this present world we have lost sight of it.

Every day, God invites us into this other world. It doesn’t mean checking out of this one. His kingdom is as much here as it is there. What he invites us to do is to live out the future kingdom in the present. Bring something of his grace and peace and joy, which we will one day experience in all its fullness, into the here and now. Allow God to move in and through us. After all, he frames everything.

God minus the world is God. The world minus God is nothing. Everything begins and ends with God, but listening to most conversations, you would think it begins and ends with us, with presidents and policies and stock markets. That amounts to idolatry. As another theologian put it, “When we tremble before other judges or hope in other saviors, when we pile up our own sins on anyone but Jesus, idols occupy our hearts and take control.” And this produces “sensory organ malfunction.” We become like the lifeless idols we have created. We have ears, but we cannot hear—eyes, but we cannot see.

While our attention turns to inaugurating a new President, I think its time we, the church, pause and reinstate God as Lord of our lives. He draws us to the world we cannot see, one more real than the one we can see. It is this present world and its promised hopes of prosperity and security that are an illusion. Only God will get us through the night and beyond any sense of hopelessness.

In critical moments, God shows us this. There is this wonderful scene when a woman by the name of Sarah wondered if God could address her hopelessness. You may remember (Gen 18). God showed up from this other world and confronted her doubts with the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

I have been living on this question lately, as well as the comments of Walter Brueggemann: “It is an open question, one that waits for an answer. It is the question which surfaces everywhere in the Bible. It is the fundamental question our age must answer. And how it is answered determines everything else.”

How it is answered will reflect the size of our imagination.

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