Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: imagination

Approaches to the Bible

All those who call themselves Christians say that their faith is built solely on Jesus Christ the solid rock and that they depend on the Bible for spiritual truth and for instruction in living a life that is pleasing to their Saviour. But how is it really?

Some folks base their faith on a set of proof texts garnered from here and there in the Bible and are endeavouring to build a Christian life using this material. They may be very earnest in expounding on these texts, but often don’t know the context in which these verses are found. In reality, they did not discover these proof texts for themselves, but learned them from various books, preachers and teachers. They were probably convinced of a particular interpretation of Scripture, then given verses to back up a view they had already been persuaded to accept as truth. This is not Bible-based faith and the assurance derived from the certainty of knowing the proof texts is often a false assurance. Such a second-hand belief system does not equip people to counter the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Others begin with a desire to learn from the Bible, but as time goes on they begin to trust their imagination to interpret what the Bible is saying. This is often because they find a plain interpretation of the Bible too constraining. Perhaps they had a remarkable experience or two that was genuinely from the Lord, and begin to think that God has a special role for them in life. They search for confirmation of this in the Bible and begin to interpret all the events of their life in the light of what they imagine to be their special calling. By this time they are no longer searching the Bible to find God’s truth, but searching it to validate their remarkable new insights. They still claim to have a Bible-based faith, but are far from the heaven bound narrow way.

There are a few who hold up their thoughts, desires, imaginations and experiences to the light of the Bible and allow God to prove what is genuine and what is useless baggage. They will be blessed in reading the Bible. They will find direction for their lives, strength for the daily battles with the forces of evil, and assurance that God is leading. There is peace and rest when they have nothing to prove, but are willing to let God prove their inner thoughts and desires through His Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Cloud based writing

One morning almost 60 years ago I entered a classroom to write my Grade 11 Composition final exam. I breezed through the first few pages, confident that I understood English grammar. The last page stopped me cold. It called for an essay on one of the topics in a long list. None of those topics stirred the slightest interest in my mind.

I glanced out the window. It was a glorious June day with puffy cumulus clouds drifting across the sky. I would rather have been outside, but I was stuck in that desk until I wrote the essay, or ran out of time.

Watching the clouds had a calmchild-830988_640ing effect. I saw a sheep being chased by a dragon. As I watched, the shapes slowly shifted and suddenly it was a Spanish galleon sailing through the skies. Cloud followed cloud and each one took on a recognizable shape then slowly morphed into something different.

Somebody coughed and with a jolt my mind came back into the room. The clock was ticking and the page in front of me was still blank. The list of topics was as uninspiring as ever.

Then inspiration struck: why not write about the things I had been seeing in the sky? I picked one of the topics that more or less fit and filled the page with my imagination. I handed my paper in and went outside into the sunshine.

I received full marks for that essay, 95% on the whole exam. Years later, I read in Writers’ Digest that a writer is doing the most real work when he is staring out the window. When he takes a pen in his hand or sits down at the keyboard that is just clerical work. I felt vindicated.

I still plot my stories and articles the way I did that long ago day in June. Only now the shapes I see are in my mind, not out the window. Clouds, people, ideas, arguments, incidents imagined or real, go drifting across my mind, often changing shape and becoming something totally different from the original idea. Some drift away, never to return. Some will drift through my mind for days, weeks, months, even years, before I put anything down on paper.

Sometimes I will think of a title and write it down. I might even write a list of words under the title, or a sentence or two. I have no idea how or where those words will appear in what I plan to write, but I think they will fit somewhere. Usually they do, but sometimes the whole shape of the story changes before I get it written.

I believe those idea clouds drifting through my mind are inspirations from the Holy Spirit. At least the ones that keep coming back. The changing shapes are the Spirit refining my perception so that I can understand how to put those ideas on paper so others can see what I am seeing.

Writers tend to classify themselves as either outliners or pantsers. An outliner has the whole plot down on paper before she starts – complete with descriptions of the characters, the main incidents and the conclusion. Pantsers start with an idea and proceed “by the seat of their pants” without a predetermined idea of where this is going to lead or what will happen along the way. Which category do I fall into? I don’t really know. I prefer to think of myself as a cloud-based plotter.

The kingdom of God

Daniel 2:44: And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.

God gave Nebuchadnezzar a vivid dream: a short course in world history in pictorial form. Then God revealed  to Daniel both the dream and the significance of the pictures, culminating in the above statement. The dream was an allegory – the rock that was cut out of the mountain with no visible means and then grew to fill the whole world is a picture that can be visualized. The reality that it represents cannot be so readily visualized, yet the interpretation allows no room to say that it does not exist.

If we believe this to be a divinely inspired message, then the kingdom of God must exist today, and it must be still growing. How do we reconcile that with what meets our eyes in the more “civilized” nations today?

Many people in our day speak of the invisible church, claiming for members all Christian people everywhere. Yet if we examine the Biblical description of the church, it is immediately evident that it cannot be invisible. The instructions for choosing leaders, for admitting members, for dealing with unfaithful members, can only be practiced by a united, clearly discernible body. It is the kingdom that is invisible, not the church

The kingdom of God, or of heaven, does include all people who are children of God and citizens of heaven. It is a kingdom that is in a continual in a state of flux, making it well nigh impossible to discern its shape and composition. God works in mysterious ways, touching people in places and situations where human attempts at evangelism cannot reach, calling people around us that we thought were unreachable.

Our intellect and imagination are both a blessing and a curse in the kingdom. Yes, the imagination plays a vital part in kingdom work. It allows us to visualize how the timeless truths of God’s Word can be applied in cultures and circumstances that are completely foreign to us. There is also the very real danger that we will adapt the truth of the Bible to the culture. I believe that we in North America have gone much further down this path than we want to admit.

I will rejoice in the reality of God’s kingdom, even if so much of it is hidden from my view, because I can see the effects the kingdom in many ways. Yet I am also aware that it is a kingdom under siege by the kingdom of darkness. Citizens of the kingdom are in great danger, and many fall prey to the assaults of the enemy.

I am also thankful for the church of which I am a member. There is a much greater measure of safety here where we know one another and love and support each other. Yet I fear lest we think of the church only as a fortress to protect us from the assaults of the enemy. The enemy is vulnerable, God has given us the weapons to combat the enemy and rescue those who he has captured.

It will not do to be foolhardy and boastful, we have no strength of our own. But if we see only the danger about us and fear to use the armour and weapons our Lord has given, we are in great danger.

A sense of wonder

Aslan, copyright (c) Lucy Learns Ltd www.lucylearns.com

Aslan, copyright (c) Lucy Learns Ltd
http://www.lucylearns.com

There are sober and serious Christians who object to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books and Tolkien’s Hobbit books on the ground that they are not real life stories. To which I would ask “Is this visible world all there is to real life?”

Children are aware that there are unseen forces influencing the events around them. They live in a world of mystery and wonder that is sometimes frightening, sometimes reassuring. The schools do their best to abolish that awareness of unseen wonders. What is left of life when that is gone? Emptiness, meaninglessness and despair.

The Bible is not simply a book of moral teachings, with some history and some poetry. It is a book that allows us a glimpse beyond our mortality at the wonders that God has prepared for His people, and also the great spiritual forces that are trying to prevent us reaching that goal.

There are miracles all through the Bible. We accept them as fact. But they are only a small part of the spiritual realities hinted at in the Bible. Jesus, and many others before Him, revealed important truths by the means of stories, or parables. Are they all true life stories, things that really happened? Some may have been, but even then there are details that reach beyond the limitations of this earthly life.

Consider the parable of the prodigal son. He asked for his share of the inheritance from his father, wasted it all, and then returned home. When his brother complained of the favour the father bestowed on this wastrel, the father told him “All that I have is thine.” This is beyond the earthly division of property among a father’s heirs. When we waste our spiritual heritage, it does not diminish the wealth our Father has to bestow on His other children. Likewise, when we repent and those spiritual benefits are restored, there is nothing subtracted from the spiritual heritage available to others. There is a marvellous truth here that is beyond earthly reality.

The parable of the sower conveys a similar truth. A real life farmer will sow his seed in a prepared field where it has the best chance of producing a crop. In this case the seed is the word of God and our Father is altogether profligate in the way he strews it about, in the hope that even in the most unlikely places a few kernels might take root and amount to something. He also makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. A new spiritual life can spring up in places that we think are incapable of bearing fruit.

But the Bible goes beyond parables to describe the wonders of the world that now is and the world that is to come. John saw the streets of New Jerusalem as transparent gold and each gate as made of a single pearl. He was using the words and images at his disposal to describe something that has no earthly counterpart.

And consider this image: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). There are many more verses like this. Will they be literally fulfilled? Yet the Scripture says that all Creation will rejoice at the coming of the Lord. There is a thrill in contemplating that great day of rejoicing.

There are works of imagination and fancy that try to twist the message of the Bible out of shape. Those we must avoid. A devoted student of the bible will find that it interprets itself; there is no need for some teacher to provide an explanation from his own imagination.

There are other works of fancy and imagination that portray humans as having magical or supernatural powers. These too should be avoided. But books that portray ordinary boys and girls, men and women, in a world of wonder and mystery, are more true to life than books that merely try to inculcate a moral lifestyle. It is not fair to children to teach that if they are honest and industrious, respectful to elders and never use bad words, that one day they will go to heaven.

They will encounter dragons and giants in life. If they do not expect such things, they may well flee and fall into a horrible snare. If they know that such things exist, and also that there are unseen helpers to help them overcome the giants and dragons, they are much more likely to face them with courage.

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