The Preeminence of the Imagination: Part 1

Beginnings are important.  They set the tone for the rest of the story.  They orient us to our surroundings and define our perception of reality and circumstance.  They give us our footing.  Our first impressions color the way we interpret a particular relationship or situation.  The first in a series often affords us a glimpse of what is further to come or what will be developed as the series progresses.  What we place first reflects what we value and what we are aiming for. It displays what we deem important. 

Based upon this premise, when we look at God's initial interaction with mankind in the Scriptures, we find imagination and creative collaboration among the first encounters we have with him.  Naming The Animals.

God, who had just created all things out of nothing could have easily given his own names to the creatures he formed.  But rather than exerting his ability to do so, he steps back and leaves room for human contribution to be added to his work. This initial calling forth of creative ability from within Adam reveals the importance of the imagination.  It was among the first faculties God developed in the new human.

As the Genesis narrative unfolds and sin enters the equation, we get another interesting glimpse of God's value of imagination.  His first grief expressed regarding the mar upon his creation is over the corruption of the imagination.  (Genesis 6:5)  This grief was so severe, it led him to contemplate destroying all he had made.

What is fascinating though, is that even in this state, God does not stop reaching out to collaborate with mankind despite its corruption.  He never gives up.  He is never without mercy.  He is never without a plan of redemption.  Even as humanity sunk to its worst, God reaches out to find someone who will collaborate with him.  Noah. 

As God prepared to destroy sinful humanity through the flood, he employed human creativity as a vessel of mercy and restoration.  "Make yourself and ark..." God didn't tell Noah to run for the hills.  He didn't tell him to wait while he himself provided a vehicle of escape.  No.  God said to Noah, "Make an ark."  Then he instructed him on how to do it and the two of them worked together to build it.

This act showcases that God was still determined to accomplish his original intent of Divine and human collaboration.  Yes, he was grieved that the imagination of mankind was corrupt.  He was grieved to the point of destroying the whole world.  But even in his grief, he remained steadfast in his intent to collaborate with a people who would listen and live out his life in the earth through creative contributions.

What is even further interesting is that God not only saved mankind through Noah's creativity, but he extended the salvation to the animals Adam had named.  God deemed Adam's creativity as worthy of salvaging.  Noah didn't rename the animals after the flood.  God didn't recreate them or leave them as victim of the judgment upon humanity's choices.  God made a space for Adam's creative contribution to continue on even as Adam himself had fallen from grace.

The question remains, why is the imagination of such importance to God that it would be among the first faculties he develops within mankind and why is it the first mention of what he grieves over once mankind has sinned?

The abbreviated answer to this is that the imagination is the womb of the spirit.  It is the seed bed of reality.  God knew that with an infected imagination, man's creative works would carry the stain of sinful independence and thus fall short of his original intent.  Even worse, God knew what he had deposited within mankind would continue to function with some inkling of divinity, if only disjointed from it’s source.  (The Tower of Babel is a perfect example of this which we will look at in the next section.)
To conclude our point, let's look at the Hebrew word used in Genesis 6:5 for imagination,  yā'·tser.  It is closely related to its root word, yä·tsar', used earlier in Genesis 2:7 describing God’s forming of the first human being.  One term is used for the imagination, while the other, a physical act of creating.  This tells us the imagination is inseparably linked to the works of our hands and the realities we build.  What we shape in our minds is what we give birth to in our daily lives.   

1 Peter 1:13 constructs a similar idea by exhorting its readers to "gird up the loins of [their] mind.”  In the human body, the loins are the place that encase our reproductive systems.  The word mind in this scripture, dianoia, includes the imagination.  In other words, the writer of 1 Peter is saying, protect or rather prepare your imagination because the imagination is where we give birth. What we rehearse in our minds is what we walk out in our lives.  

Understanding this correlation allows us to comprehend the depth of the Creator’s value of imagination and allows us to see more clearly its creative power and purpose.