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:
- Abused, for one’s own self-pleasure.
- Rejected, by pretending they do not exist or are themselves evil Things.
- 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.”
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.