Lent VI: Imagining God’s Goodness (when people find bombs in the mail)

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”

I live in a busy house. In addition to two hapless parents, our house more or less contains three active boys. Each day is swarmed by running, jumping, wrestling, tackling, flying, pushing, throwing and whacking. Each day also brings a host of interesting visitors. Superheroes come by quite often. So do monsters, transformers, explorers, hunters, space travelers, historical figures, deadly creatures, knights and ghosts. They all know their way around our place. Being a parent of young children has required me to get re-acquainted with the world of the imaginary. It’s been a good thing.

I think it was the Anabaptist theologian Greg Boyd that first clued me in to the deep significance of imagination. It’s in the realm of the imaginary that we form our understanding of our lives. Simply having a job or whatever has no meaning in itself. The significance is imagined. I remember Boyd also making the point that what we imagine shapes what we desire and what we imagine shapes what we intend. Our imagination is “real” in the sense that it, no less than neurons, streets, snow and the money in our bank account, determines what we can and can’t do. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth used the phrase “divinatory imagination.” He had in mind the way that biblical references to things like heaven or angels help us better understand our world and trouble our assumptions about what is “real.” The general point being that there are things referred to in scripture that, though they are not “historical” or scientifically observable, still help us live in line with what is “real.” It’s only through the engagement of our imagination that we can apprehend such things.

This whole line of thinking could get quite long and complex. I bring it up only because I find it helpful in the basic life-practice of giving thanks for God’s goodness. I am not sure that God’s goodness is something we can observe off the face of the world. (Neither is much of anything else about God. Neither, come to think of it, is anyone’s “goodness.”)

As I read Psalm 118 today, I find it a stretch. Right now the news cycle is dominated by stories about mail bombs and corrupt analytics firms, each seeking to shape the world through fear. The news is the news. It never tells us anything about the way the sun continues to warm the earth or the way seeds still produce new plants. The news doesn’t tell us about supportive friends or honest employees who do their jobs. Every transmission of the news involves the imaginary: it takes imagination to know what qualifies as ‘news’. However, the imagination of the news rarely evokes God’s goodness. That sort of imagination must be cultivated in other ways.

As a parent I’m learning how plastic imagination is, even my own. Spending time with people who have younger minds shows that clearly, but I think it’s also true for the rest of us. Even an older imagination like mine can learn to see God’s goodness. That’s my hope. It’s what the psalmist leads me to imagine.

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