The afternoon cartoon show I watched at the age of seven was giving away a kid-appropriate version of Disney’s Herbie the Love Bug. It fit two kids and it was drivable after a fashion. It was the first time I’d ever entered a contest to win something. Day after day I’d imagine driving around the small town we lived in, showing off my own car. I did not win. Looking back, I think I’d have been disappointed if I had since it is doubtful that the child’s riding toy would have had a motor and it certainly would not have exhibited the semi-sentient personality of the car in the movie. But for those few weeks of waiting for the contest results, I had a lot of fun dreaming about driving that car.

Around that same time, United Artist’s movie, “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang” was introduced to me. Now, this car was something. It could turn into a boat; why it could even fly. I wanted a car like that, but nobody was offering one on any television contest that I knew of, so I decided I’d look at dad’s light blue Fiat and see if I couldn’t convert it to a Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang car. Fortunately, I did not have any tools other than scissors, tape, and cardboard, so when I affixed cardboard wings to the chassis, I didn’t damage dad’s car. Of course, the wings did not make the Fiat fly either.

I’ve learned that in life, many times the idea of a thing is much greater than the reality of that thing. Consider adulthood. How many of us said, perhaps often, “I can’t wait until I grow up and then I will . . .”? Then we enter adulthood, and we discover that greater autonomy is circumscribed by greater responsibility. We discover that those dream jobs we wanted as children require training, skills, and someone willing to hire us. Or perhaps we do land that dream job only to find out that it isn’t fun and doesn’t pay like we thought it would. I’m still trying to figure out who to send my application for millionaire astronaut to.

So, reality doesn’t live up to our expectations, but that is only because our imagination is capable of more than the material universe can deliver. Why do we have the gift of imagination? Certainly, it has uses, but it also delivers disappointment. Many a marriage fails because the imagined relationship can’t be matched in the actual one the couple experiences.
Imagination does help us see new possibilities and come up with new solutions and that is wonderful, but imagination also helps people stoke their fears and awfulize their worries. Like any tool, imagination’s value derives from the way we use it.

God gave us imagination because He wanted to give us the ability to be lower-case “c” creators. He desired that we have the potential to see things not merely as they are, but as they could and should be. He gifted us with imagination to keep us from settling for mediocrity. Perhaps the greatest use of imagination is that it can help us to see the unseen and think the unknown; for it is in these that our minds begin to have a mere shadow’s grasp of the greatness of God. He is beyond our senses, beyond our science, and beyond our control, but He is accessible through faith. Faith is not imaginary, but imagination is a tool of faith. Unlike things imagined that exceed their actuality, the greatness of God cannot be overimagined. This means that when we are finally able to perceive more than just a shadow of eternal truths, we will all find that even if we were disappointed in God in this life for whatever reason, we will be more than awestruck at who God really is and what He really did. And I can make that claim based on what I have experienced of God thus far as well as on the revelations given in the Bible. It turns out that God is giving away something too great for human imagination to exceed. And the only way to experience it is to take new life in Christ by faith now. Take note, that you can experience God’s loving personality right now, and you don’t have to play make-believe to do it. Unfortunately, many people use their imagination to trick themselves into believing that they can have an awesome life all on their own, no God required.

The greatest misuse of imagination is delusion, and delusion leads to the greatest disappointments. Right now, we are all waiting, whether we acknowledge it or not, to see who gets the prize and whether it lives up to our dreams. I am convinced that God wants all of us to win and He is preparing to give those who believe in Him a forever that we cannot now even begin to imagine. I hope to see you there!

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