Most people love a great book. A well-written story takes the reader away to another time and place where they can emotionally connect to characters, feel the drama, and ride a wave of adventure through their own imagination. No one needs to be told to use their imagination when reading a good book. So is the Bible any different? Do we need to engage our imagination when reading Scripture?
Impress the Word
“You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul…” – Deut 11:18
God calls us not just to learn the truth of His word, but to impress His words on our hearts and souls. This means that we need to let the word of God saturate our mind and soak into our heart and soul. And we do this by using our imagination.
Just think: most of the time Jesus taught and shared with people in parables or allegories. Why? Jesus wanted to plant His words into people’s hearts and He knew the way to the heart was through the imagination. By using metaphors Jesus appealed to both the intellect and the imagination. The intellect is able to appreciate the concept or theory of His teachings, whereas the imagination can enjoy the living picture.
To separate the intellect from the imagination is to miss some of the power and life that is present in the word of God. The intellect can understand the truth and the imagination can see the truth. Through imagination we can see reality the God’s word and picture ourselves in that reality. As we engage God’s word with both our understanding and imagination we open our hearts to explore the reality of God. So instead of using our imagination to engage in a “fantasy that escapes reality in an alternate world”, we let the Holy Spirit sanctify our imagination and use it to penetrate reality and connect us with God through His word.[[Preaching and Teaching with Imagination, Warren Wiersbe, Baker Books 1994]]
Just a quick note before we go on. Many people are cautious about using their imagination with Scripture because of the dangers of new age visualization or self-inspired vision. And this is a fair concern. We are definitely not saying we should use our imagination to indulge in a Bible-based self-centered fantasy. Instead we are saying we need to learn how to use our imagination as Scripture intends. Both Hebrew and Greek are strongly pictorial languages and the different tenses of each language are used to evoke various pictures for the reader. As we learn the meanings of different verb tenses found in Hebrew and Greek, we can start to see how Scripture guides us to imagine the story.
The Greek perfect tense invites the reader not only to see an action as having been completed, but as having a radiant or ongoing effect. So when we read about the cross and hear Jesus say “It is finished” we need to use our imagination to see the cross as the final victory over sin with effects that radiate throughout eternity.
The Greek imperfect tense is a particularly vivid story-telling tense that is intended to draw the reader into the scene. Take for example the woman who anointed Jesus:
The ‘xxx’ symbol in The Discovery Bible represents the imperfect tense, and prompts the reader to really imagine the scene. Here Luke wants us to see the woman as she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears. He wants us to watch her wiping His feet, kissing Him and anointing Him with perfume. As we take time to use our imagination, we engage our hearts with Scripture and appreciate more of the dramatic power of God’s word.
There are a only a handful of tenses to learn and The Discovery Bible makes it easy to remember each one by using intuitive symbols.
So like any great book, Scripture calls us to imagine what is happening and guides our imagination with the different Hebrew and Greek tenses. By appreciating the verb tenses of the sacred original text and using our imagination we can begin to impress the word of God on our heart and soul and experience the transformation found in the living word of God.
See a list of the verb tenses that are marked in The Discovery Bible