I began my “faith-imagination” days when my mother caught me stealing her cookies. She sat me down and said, “God is watching you!” Suddenly, the image of an ogre-like angry giant hovered over my head, and I believed!
How do you imagine God? Do you make him masculine with a long white beard? Do you make her a black female like the novel, “Shack”? Is God with you all the time or only when you pray? Does God have human emotions like anger and love and hatred? Does God, in your imagination, answer all your prayers?
One of our readers who labels me “inane and insipid,” loudly claims that he knows exactly who God is, and he’s “keeping score.” However, my friend, Creede Hinshaw, retired pastor of Mulberry Methodist, wrote a beautiful column on this last week. Creede said, “Here’s the problem with perfect theological clarity and zealous righteousness: once you accuse others of heresy and paganism, where do you stop?”
All of us imagine God differently, don’t we? And we call it faith. Catholics imagine that God personally keeps the pope from error when he speaks “ex cathedra,” and they believe it. Fundamentalists imagine that God personally spoke to the evangelists and copyists and translators to keep the Bible inerrant, and they’re quick to broadcast their faith. A person’s faith is the way he/she imagines God.
But some people don’t like the word imagination when applied to their faith. They would rather imagine things like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy which they figure might not be real, but when it comes to the Virgin Birth and the physical resurrection of Jesus, their belief is certain.
However, if God gives the gift of faith to everyone, why is it so different? If a Muslim receives this gift, why doesn’t he believe in the divinity of Jesus? Why do Mormons believe in the visions of Joseph Smith, and Catholics in transubstantiation, and the Nashville tribe in preventing gay marriage?
We don’t believe the same thing because we don’t imagine the same way. The person who wrote Wikipedia puts it this way: “We don’t act on our imagination,” he says, “we act on our faith. It is perfectly possible to imagine oneself a millionaire, but unless one believes it, one does not act as such.
In 1917, crowds of people gathered in Fatima, Portugal, to look at the sun because three little children said the Virgin Mary would work the Miracle of the Sun. The collection of inconsistent and contradictory accounts from the eyewitnesses prove that prolonged staring at the sun can provide many different imaginings, but everyone believed what they imagined was a miracle.
Must all Christians believe the same? Obviously, we don’t. One of my friends attends a Methodist church in Macon and he wrote me last week, “At every Sunday morning worship service the congregation recites the "Apostles Creed", which I understand defines just what a Christian is supposed to believe. But I am having a hard time believing every tenant of that creed.” He just can’t imagine Mary conceiving Jesus without the sperm of Joseph and so, he doesn’t believe in the Virgin Birth.
Official Christianity has traditionally forced “belief” as the litmus test but that is becoming more and more difficult, not only because “heresies” are more prevalent, but because “officialdom” is less official. Differences of opinion have bubbled up for 2,000 years and they have been silenced and condemned by the Vatican and important Protestant groups, but they’re much more difficult to silence today.
Today there is a progressive movement throughout the Christian world which joyfully maintains that the early Christian imaginations and historical memories of Jesus have morphed into a faith that continues to grow and mature each day. I hope you are fortunate enough to belong to one of the many Middle Georgia churches who have embraced this movement and will warmly embrace you, however you choose to imagine God.