About a year ago I was having a conversation with my housemate, Jérémie. He’s a very practically minded individual, wanting to serve the Lord by making the most of the time he’s been given. And make the most, he does. His ability to focus and get work done is incredible to me.
Of course, there are drawbacks to this mentality. When he was considering taking a break to read a novel (one of Lewis’s Narnia books), he struggled to justify why he should spend time reading such fiction.There were many reasons I could have offered—it’s good for your language, it can provide helpful cultural touchpoints, it shapes your understanding of “story,” and it’s simply fun. But I didn’t share any of those reasons. I told him that he should read the novel to practice for heaven.
Reading novels, engaging with art and storytelling, does something fundamental to our imagination. It expands it. As we read about talking animals, a world of possibilities opens to us. As we hear the echoes of the victory of good over evil, we’re given a glimpse of the final victory that is coming. Our capacity to imagine is expanded as we allow our minds to be filled with good stories.
Thomas Aquinas, the great Christian thinker of the 13th century, was also interested in the connection between this life and the next. He described the next life as an ongoing contemplation of God in which all of humanity’s desires are satisfied. However, Thomas also thought that not everyone would have the exact same experience of this vision of God. While all would be satisfied, some individuals would have a greater capacity to appreciate and enjoy it. The reason? They had greater capacity for love because of the way they lived their life on earth.
While Aquinas focused on love, I wonder if there isn’t something to the idea of expanding our imagination, as well.
I was talking with my friend Justin once about the new earth and what it would be like. We tried to stretch our imaginations to envision the possibilities. I think the images we offered were of Super Soakers filled with chocolate syrup and a massive library (not together). While definitely fun, they weren’t particularly awe-inspiring.
Maybe there won’t be Super Soakers filled with chocolate syrup, but the new heavens and new earth will be incredible. I wonder though if some of us who so rarely practice our imaginative capacities will struggle to appreciate the bright verdant colors, or hear the perfect harmonies. Perhaps some of us will have so stunted our imaginations because there are more “practical” things to do that our capacity to appreciate those things beyond our imagination (the literally fantastic) will be stunted.
The redemption of all things isn’t God pressing delete; it’s a restoration. What we do now matters. Fostering our imagination may be one way to prepare for that coming day. It’s just an idea, but it’s a good enough reason for me to pick up that novel I’ve been neglecting.