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Imagination: For God’s Glory and Others’ Good, Part 1

While abusing the Bible for his own self-pleasure, doomsaying false prophet and Christ-slanderer Harold Camping also abused his God-given imagination — similar to how people also abuse God’s gift of romance and sex.

So begins the series in which I’ll compare creativity to sex, and Lord willing, get away with it.

I also hope to draw what I’m sure is a connection between recent discussions: an online column by Russell Moore called Can Romance Novels Hurt Your Heart?, our own Fred Warren’s satirical take on overreactions to bad fiction, and (why not?) Harold Camping.

First, here’s how compare romance, physical results included, and human creativity.

  • Romance and imagination are gifts from God, good gifts, for His glory and our good.
  • Even after the Rebellion (Genesis 3) that resulted in humans abusing good Things (cf. Mark 7), romance’s goodness is proved by passages such as Genesis 2, Ephesians 5 and (of course) all of the Song of Solomon. Imagination and creativity are shown to be good in Exodus 31-38 (the construction of the Tabernacle), and 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3 add that in anything a Christian does, he must glorify God.

However, both romance/sex and creativity can be used, or abused, in different ways:

  1. Abused, for one’s own self-pleasure.
  2. Rejected, by pretending they do not exist or are themselves evil Things.
  3. Used and enjoyed, according to God’s Word, for His glory and our good.

1. Imagination abused

Most recently, lying, doomsaying Bible-abuser Harold Camping also abused his imagination, treating his own myth-making as reality and rejecting God in favor of his own self-pleasure.

For a guy of 90, Camping has stayed active, even before the whole false-“Rapture” thing last Saturday. Yes, I’m picturing him as Christian-spinoff cult-dom’s very own Hugh Hefner. But instead of keeping to an unkempt mansion with women, he stays in a studio with a Bible and “reads” that book the way no one reads plain writing: himself the enlightened “interpreter,” ignoring the plain Gospel in favor of supposed secret codes “read” by his own imagination.

Based on Mark 4: 33-34, which tells how Jesus spoke to them, a particular people group at a particular time, only in parables, Camping claims the Bible is all one great big parable whose allegories and symbols only the enlightened (himself) can determine. Also, because these are the last days, the Bible now gets to be really revealed, because the end of Daniel 12 mentions “the words” being “shut up and sealed” until the end. (Source: Alpha and Omega Ministries.)

That’s abuse of Scripture, and abuse of imagination. And it got worse on Monday, May 23.

Asked if he had any advice to offer those who had given away their material wealth in the belief the world was about to end, Mr Camping said they would cope.

“We just had a great recession. There’s lots of people who lost their jobs, lots of people who lost their houses… and somehow they all survived,” he said.

“We’re not in the business of giving any financial advice,” he added.

“We’re in the business of telling people maybe there is someone you can talk to, and that’s God.”

Click to see source: Dr. James White (who debated Camping in 2009) and Alpha and Omega Ministries.

In other words: My own “spiritual” rights to be Big Leader matter more than honoring God and His Word, loving people and repenting for my wrongs. My imagination is for my own self-pleasure. And I don’t give a crap who gets hurt or if God’s Name is slandered.

Yet it would be easy to critique Camping without also considering: might we slip into being reckless with God’s Word, even while sincerely believing we seek to learn its Author’s intent?

And even if we don’t really believe our imagined scenarios are truth or go about spending millions to promote them as truth, do we let them trump God’s truth? Might we, even with the best of intentions, sometimes abuse our imaginations for our own pleasure?

That’s something to ponder. And what’s scary is that Camping — just like us sometimes — seems to have begun with very sincere intentions. He wanted to find the Bible’s deeper meanings. Apparently he wanted to apply his imagination in search of truth. Shouldn’t all Christians also want the same? Yet Camping has refused to repent and do that in God’s way.

A final bonus thought: I’ve begun to wonder if reading some fantastic, God-honoring novels may have actually relieved Camping’s abuses of his own imagination. Like a sex deviant, did this false teacher  take out his frustrated imagination on the Bible, his deceived followers (who also want the wrong kind of escapism), and real Christians who are now stuck saying He’s Not One of Us? Could Camping have been helped by having a legitimate “outlet” for his speculations, similar to how marriage is the right outworking for God-given sexual desires?

Next week I’ll pick up with the second extreme view, often held as an overcorrection to abuse of imagination: Christians who deny their own imaginations, or the goodness of this gift.

Addendum: correcting Camping with Christian imagination?

Friday, May 27 — Readers below point out how I should have been clearer about how simply throwing books at Camping to try to point him toward better, more-God-glorifying uses of imagination, will certainly not correct his errors. That alone wouldn’t help now, and it wouldn’t have helped in the past either.

Author (and SF contributor) Kaci Hill, for example, wrote:

I think I could give him any novel I wanted and it wouldn’t by default prevent him from thinking what he wanted or change his mind. Books may influence theology, but they can’t create them.

Amen times ten. But — still speculating here — if one could time-travel back decades ago when Camping was still acting more orthodox, to change history, and had some assurance that both time and people could be rewritten, I do believe that exposure to Christ-influenced imagination done right could have helped. But absolutely, that would be secondary to the main need for his sinful impulses to be changed from the inside-out, and ultimately only the Holy Spirit can do that.

Camping’s primary problem is (I believe this is proven even more true now) spiritual arrogance, sourced by an unregenerate heart. He doesn’t act saved. If he dies in this condition, he’ll have proved that he never was saved. Christians don’t act like this and make a practice of sinning, without repenting. (Source: 1 John.)

So yes, absolutely, only giving him fun novels — the best stuff Christendom has come up with, even by the Patron Saints of Christian Visionary Fiction, Lewis and Tolkien — would not have helped at all. I hope I never gave the impression I thought otherwise.

In fact, for all we know Camping knew about Christian imagination done right and overtly rejected it. Similarly, he rejected the truth in the church where he used to be, and which did its job by disciplining him (yes!) when he started going off the rails, after which he (of course) decided the Holy Spirit had left the churches, and salvation was no longer available inside even orthodox-believing Gospel-driven churches.

Insisting someone hurl himself into the practice of God-honoring imagination, without having the desire to honor God in the first place and use His gifts rightly — which can only come from repentance and acceptance of the Gospel — wouldn’t work at all.

Not only that, it’s legalism: enacting another Do-This, without a Why.

Maybe that was an error above: I myself assumed the Gospel of repentance and faith in Christ! (Re-note to self: never, ever, assume that.)

Without a Gospel-wrought change, not even the Patron Saints of Christian Visionary Fiction would have any effect on a rebel human who’s determined to abuse his own God-given imagination. Even now readers claiming to be “familiar” with them will claim they said or meant things they never did (more recently, Rob Bell, totally missing the point of The Great Divorce, claimed it supports his beliefs in non-permanent Hell). So there’s no chance that only great fiction, without a heart-level change that only the Holy Spirit could use to regenerate his spiritually dead heart, would have helped Camping.

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Kaci Hill
Member

So begins the series in which I’ll compare creativity to sex, and Lord willing, get away with it.

 
Who says I have to let you get away with anything? That’s creepy, dude. 😛
 
On Camping: My dad said the saddest part of all that is the people who lost everything by believing him.  Which is true, and what will set me off if I think on it long. But that’s kinda your point: His victims. For myself, I think there’s a special level of Hell reserved for people who deceive, manipulate, and abuse people’s souls that way.

Camping claims the Bible is all one great big parable whose allegories and symbols only the enlightened (himself) can determine.

 
That’s not just abuse, that’s heresy. I didn’t know that.

 
In other words: My own “spiritual” rights to be Big Leader matter more than honoring God and His Word, loving people and repenting for my wrongs. My imagination is for my own self-pleasure. And I don’t give a crap who gets hurt or if God’s Name is slandered.
Yet it would be easy to critique Camping without also considering: might we slip into being reckless with God’s Word, even while sincerely believing we seek to learn its Author’s intent?
And even if we don’t really believe our imagined scenarios are truth or go about spending millions to promote them as truth, do we let them trump God’s truth? Might we, even with the best of intentions, sometimes abuse our imaginations for our own pleasure?

I’m gonna have to think about that. I think where I got hung up in the last post was I wouldn’t have used ‘imagination’ in a non-fiction setting. It’s completely legitimate, and Scripture uses it that way, but I’ll have to think things through.
 

A final bonus thought: I’ve begun to wonder if reading some fantastic, God-honoring novels may have actually relieved Camping’s abuses of his own imagination. Like a sex deviant, did this false teacher  take out his frustrated imagination on the Bible, his deceived followers (who also want the wrong kind of escapism), and real Christians who are now stuck saying He’s Not One of Us? Could Camping have been helped by having a legitimate “outlet” for his speculations, similar to how marriage is the right outworking for God-given sexual desires?

Could you flesh this thought out for me? Marriage itself isn’t going to solve all the problems for a person having such ‘tension.’ I’ve heard it can actually compound it sometimes. Also, I have no idea what the fictive outlet parallel would be? Read ‘The Third Millenium’?  😉 More seriously, did you ever read a book that I think is titled “Millenium” or something? I’ll have to hunt it down, but it’s basically about this guy who becomes so obsessed with prophecy and end times that he becomes a terrorist (it made sense, in the book).  So, telling a guy with a penchant for that kind of thing to go read a dozen books on the subject might well have the adverse effect.
 
 
 

Galadriel
Guest

Interesting. That first line will definately attract attention, if nothing else.

Galadriel
Guest

Much cooler.
I kept looking for those features anyway before

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Ooooohh, CommentLuv is back. I really liked that feature a lot. These other bells and kazoos are fun, certainly. That one is helpful. Thanks for making the site so user friendly, Stephen.

Becky

Esther
Guest

Yay! Oh Look! I can make it bold or italic now, or even underlined. And all without code.

A final bonus thought: I’ve begun to wonder if reading some fantastic, God-honoring novels may have actually relieved Camping’s abuses of his own imagination.

I can even quote stuff! Lovin’ it…
I don’t know if I can sign on to the statement in the quote above, but we CAN conclude from scripture that his use of his imagination was unscriptural and sinful. Since God gave the imagination, there has to be a right use of it. Ergo, there are also sinful uses of it.
From my own experience, though, I would say that there are times when sex shouldn’t be used, no matter how much “relief” is needed. Does this apply to imagination? If so, then I think we can learn to refrain from abusing it. But we may not use it wrongly in order to get “relief”. If Camping is not regenerate, the next question is would imagination turned in morally right directions have headed off this heresy by “relieving” his need for it, or would it simply have turned toward another depraved use of it?
I vote for the latter.

Esther
Guest

Hey! the underline and strikeout doesn’t show in the above post!
 

Kaci Hill
Member

I’m still gonna go with Esther,  buddy.  I kinda worry about people who marry simply to, ah, ‘relieve the burning.’ I know it’s not true in all cases, but I’d be too worried that, with nothing else to found said marriage on, it’d quickly turn toxic and abusive (not necessarily physically).  I don’t really know that Paul was talking strictly about people who couldn’t control themselves; he elsewhere talks about self-control within the marriage bonds, so he clearly seems to think that can go badly.
 
I’m still not wild about this use of ‘imagination,’ btw. It seems to be trying to hybridize the creative realm of fiction and the inventive ways in which we deceive ourselves. I suppose it’s a difference of scope, but I really don’t want to be using the term interchangeably.  Plus, it seems to legitimize his bad theology by putting it in the same category as speculating the end times.  Either that, or it undermines the authority of Scripture by indicating that imagining a different ending of LOTR is equivalent to imagining a different version of Christ’s ascension (we don’t know the times) or a different version of the Law (it doesn’t matter how many times you get a prophetic word uttered in God’s name wrong).
 
It’s one thing to imagine a world in which Christ didn’t come, or in which the rules were different. It’s quite another to set out to change those rules.
 

If Camping had, long ago, not only read and enjoyed fantastic, God-honoring stories but understood the rightful, God-honoring place of his God-given imagination, that could have helped relieve his impulse to go off wandering and exploring in the realm of the speculative.

I think I could give him any novel I wanted and it wouldn’t by default prevent him from thinking what he wanted or change his mind. Books may influence theology, but they can’t create them.  You know, I stopped reading some sci-fi/fantasy because it was doing weird things to me? And you know, I have a friend who can’t read This Present Darkness because of her  previous dabblings in the occult. She just doesn’t think it’s a good idea. This line of thought would insist she read it.
I’m just saying. I know what’s in my own heart. I don’t think there’s a novel in the world that I should read if they take me down certain roads, and I don’t care who wrote it.

 
If he’d understood that from the beginning — founded, of course, on the more-crucial truth of how one rightly handles God’s Word — it could have helped prevent all this.

I think if he had that part right, he’d never have done it. But it doesn’t matter how many books you read; that’s a matter of the heart. If the Bible doesn’t teach him, I don’t know a novelist on this planet who could. We’re good, buddy, but we’re not that good.

Esther
Guest

Stephen, your rewrite didn’t really change what I understood you to say, except that it added “long ago” (i.e. a time element) and also added “and understood the rightful, God-honoring use of imagination”.
But adding time doesn’t change the principle and adding understanding changes EVERYTHING about your scenario. It’s absolutely, positively certain that he doesn’t and never did understand. If he had understood, then he’d be regenerate, and the game changes. But the fruit of his works and attitudes shows clearly that he was never regenerate, therefore he never understood. Therefore, imagination doesn’t even come into the question–no amount of it could make up for not understanding. Am I making sense?
I sympathize with your thought process of looking for what may have gone wrong in his earlier life that caused him to skew off-course. But I fear you cannot use this one as a support for reading and writing edifying and encouraging fiction using our imaginations in a godly way. That’s not the basis of the problem with Camping. And it wouldn’t solved it…only true faith could have solved it…and that is a gift of God.

Kathrine Roid
Guest

So begins the series in which I’ll compare creativity to sex, and Lord willing, get away with it.

I really enjoy it when someone can manage not only to open fiction with an excellent line, but non-fiction as well.  Kudos.  That was a real hooker.
 
Well, while refreshing the page I found the addition to your article which pretty much says everything I was about to say!  If I may expound:  Leading by example is important.  Not everyone who sees the example will follow or even understand it, but many will.  We, as Believing speculative writers, have taken it upon ourselves to show imagination used in a Godly fashion.

Yet it would be easy to critique Camping without also considering: might we slip into being reckless with God’s Word, even while sincerely believing we seek to learn its Author’s intent?

Arguably, every doctrinal dispute has “sincere recklessness” somewhere.

And even if we don’t really believe our imagined scenarios are truth or go about spending millions to promote them as truth, do we let them trump God’s truth?

Might we, even with the best of intentions, sometimes abuse our imaginations for our own pleasure?

Can we let Truth fall to a level below our imaginings?  Yes, of course. Perhaps that is an issue of your view of Truth, and perhaps it is an issue of thinking to much of your own thoughts, but it is possible.
 
There’s a thick line between abuse of imagination and using imagination for our own pleasure.  I presume you mean, “. . . sometimes abuse our imaginations for our own justification,” which is also very, very possible.
 
You must remember imagination is a tool, and just like any tool, it can be correctly or wrongly, for good or bad, to build or destroy. Don’t expect anyone to agree on the definition of correct and wrong and good and bad and building and destroying.
 
However, I do not think it is possible to get to such a state if your intentions are truly in the right place, and you’re not ignoring what God has shown. I believe the best guard against abuse of imagination is to keep your focus in the right place.
 
On the other note:  The whole Camping situation is a mess.  Not only is it giving Believers a bad name, not only is it ruining susceptible people’s lives, it’s a cry of “Wolf!” for the end of the world.  One day there will be a rapture and there will be judgment, but with people like Camping making ridiculous claims about when those will be, many people are tempted to ignore the reality of Judgment Day.  There.  Rant over.

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