Grabbing Imagination by the Hair

Imagining Ezekiel

In a previous post, I told the story of how I became aware of the importance of imagination in the Christian life. It occurred while reading the Book of Ezekiel—in particular, his four visions, which are long sprawling segments of a long (forty-eight chapters) and often difficult to understand prophecy.

The second prophecy (chapters 8 through 11) begins in a fierce way. Ezekiel, who is in exile just outside Babylon, is meeting with the elders of the Jewish community there. Before the group can get into the agenda for the day, the prophet is grabbed by the hair, picked up, and taken away by God himself. As Ezekiel records in the text, the Lord “put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head . . . and brought me in visions to Jerusalem” (Eze. 8:3). It is a painful beginning to what would be a most painful vision. Transporting him to the Holy City, the Lord pulls back the curtain on all sorts of abominations taking place in the courts and chambers of the Most Holy Temple.

To do God’s work, our imaginations frequently need to be grabbed. Deliberate actions and firm measures are often required to take our imaginations captive to the gospel.

I wish I could list for you “the five reasons” why God launched this vision by grabbing Ezekiel’s hair. Alas, I cannot. But there is one thing I’m sure of: it must have hurt. To be grabbed by the hair and, as the text records, then picked up? Yikes, it must have really hurt. I’ve been bald since my late twenties, and what little hair I have left is cut short, so it’s been over thirty years since anyone could have grabbed me by the hair. But before that, it happened once or twice. And it hurt.

The point is, when God grabbed Ezekiel’s hair, he also grabbed his attention. And in grabbing his attention, God grabbed his imagination. “Wake up, Ezekiel. I have some things to show you—really hard things that you’re not going to like.” The Jerusalem vision that then unfolded filled the prophet’s mind with pictures: agonizing pictures of detestable worship. Pictures that he nevertheless recorded with painstaking detail in order to grab the attention of his contemporaries.

Disciplining Our Imaginations

To do God’s work, our imaginations frequently need to be grabbed. Deliberate actions and firm measures are often required to take our imaginations captive to the gospel. That’s certainly been my experience. My imagination so easily strays. As the long-standing hymn says:

Prone to wander; Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.

To have my imagination “set on the Spirit” (Rom. 8:6-7), there are times when I must grab it. Here are two of the many ways I have learned to do that:

1. I regularly examine my imagination to see what’s in there.

In the book I’ve written with Dr. Gene Veith, we call this an “imagination audit”: taking time to thoroughly investigate what is taking place in one’s imagination. My practice is to include an audit as a part of my prayer time every day or two.

Imagination Redeemed

Gene Edward Veith Jr., Matthew P. Ristuccia

Exploring an often-forgotten part of the mind, the authors examine biblical and historical precedents to highlight the importance of the imagination for knowing God, understanding His Word, and living in the world.

I ask myself questions. What sorts of pictures are running through my mind? What imagined futures are holding me captive to fear? What images are firing my lust? What advertisements or TV scenes are haunting me? What memories just won’t leave me alone?

By God’s grace, I call them out, confess them for what they are if necessary, and turn to Christ for cleansing and renewal. I want Christ and his glory to drive me . . . not an unexamined imagination.

2. I take time to memorize, meditate upon, and listen to Scripture.

It never ceases to amaze me that God chose to reveal his truth through words and through a person. After all, as the Lord of all technology he could have chosen some very different media. He could have left us indestructible DVDs and an easy-to-use player. He could have painted unforgettable pictures. He could have dropped down an Xbox and a salvific game.

But instead he chose words. A book designed to teach us about his Son. Like a palate cleanser in some fancy meal, I find that my imagination is washed and refreshed by returning to the unadorned words of Scripture. So as part of grabbing my imagination, I meditate upon God’s word. I memorize it. I listen to it read with others. I do this because I never want to discount the power of God’s written truth to set my imagination on him.

This is the final post (part 1, part 2, part 3) in a four-part series on the imagination.

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