Our churches can be places where we struggle to relate to people who argue with us, hurt us, and cause division. We become weary of the same patterns of conflict year after year.
We could learn something from these words spoken by dreamers, innovators, optimists, and risk-takers: What if we looked at this differently?
We benefit from those who built the first airplanes, gave the first vaccines, and programmed the first computers. In the same way, we have opportunities to use spiritual imagination to look at things differently. Just like scientists who base their hypotheses on known scientific principles and act on them, we as believers can take risks and act in unknown territory based on what we know is true from God’s Word.
We have opportunities to use spiritual imagination to look at things differently.
The passages in Revelation 21–22 offer great fodder for the believer’s imagination. John’s vision of the new heaven and the new earth provides hope for a new way of relating to the people in our churches. The holy city of Jerusalem will house God and man together, and all our tears will be wiped away. Death will be a thing of the past—as well as mourning, crying, and pain.
Because we have come out of a very difficult political season and are still living in what can be a divisive health crisis, loving one another in our churches can feel even more difficult than usual. How can the imagination of faith help us love fellow believers who may be hurtful in their political rhetoric or otherwise difficult for us to love?
We can be certain about the future of even difficult believers.
Well, we can be certain about the future of even difficult believers. Revelation 22:3 tells us that no longer will anything be cursed. We will eventually live in a redeemed world with these same brothers and sisters without the effects of the fall.
We also know from Philippians 1:6 that Jesus will complete the work of redemption that has begun in each one of us. There will no longer be any need for sanctification; our becoming like Jesus will be finished.
The cruelty we sometimes experience from fellow believers will be a memory. There will be no more listening for a hidden agenda or bracing yourself for the condemning quip you know is coming.
What we will finally experience is glorious unity and beautiful oneness. If you can imagine this, you now have a secret weapon: the imagination of faith. And today, while still living in the chaos and pain of this world, you can begin to picture your brothers or sisters in the faith as God has promised they will eventually be. As you do so, two things will begin to happen.
1. See the Image of God Now
First, you will begin to see the image of God in your fellow Christians and their corresponding dignity. Yes, they’re fallen. Yes, they may be stuck on certain issues or react disproportionally to certain situations.
But imagining them without the anger, fear, and idols that sometimes drive them now will help you see the particular gifts God has given them, and maybe even the way they use those gifts.
Think about that elder who manages the finance committee and seems to react with inappropriate anxiety to any downward trends in giving. Imagine him without the worry and see the heart behind his service. Appreciate his love of spreadsheets and eye for detail. Consider how Jesus might greet him in glory, and what rewards might await him.
2. Look Ahead to a Shared Future
The imagination of faith can also shift our focus from the difficulties of relating now to the shared horizon we have as believers. Consider the crotchety older man who always sits in the second pew on the left and never seems to want anything in the church to change.
The imagination of faith can help you begin to envision him without his hold on traditions and to think about standing next to him as you worship Jesus face to face, unfettered by arguments about worship music. The reality is that someday you will do so, and the glory of that unified moment will dwarf the frustration you feel about your differences now.
Though the two of you may spend your time now caring about very different things in this world, your horizon and goal are the same. You both belong to a kingdom and long to be with the King. You are both heading in the same direction and walking through history as beloved children of God. Putting that at the forefront of your mind before you even approach this brother can change your entire encounter with him.
We know what is coming for all those we easily enjoy and those we don’t—a place prepared for them by the King. A little time spent in redemptive imagination can lead us to curiosity about one another and the dignity given to each by our Creator. It could even help us to take the risk of moving toward those we find difficult instead of away from them.
A little time spent in redemptive imagination can lead us to curiosity about one another.
Our inevitable end is unity, fellowship, and joy together. Yes, with that person. Why not offer an olive branch, be curious, or take small steps now to see and enjoy the good and glorious things that are already true of your fellow believers? As C .S. Lewis wrote, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
This is the future of all who are in Christ, even those you most struggle to love now. Use your holy imagination to help you love them today. Their imminent beauty and glory ought to inform our perception of them as we wait for the consummation of the kingdom.