I’ve been doing some reading recently on communication, especially about communication from a theological perspective. One theme that I’ve seen again and again is the creative ways that God reveals himself. In the Scriptures and elsewhere, we see that God goes out of his way to communicate who he is and what he desires for our life in ways that are emotionally provocative, aesthetically beautiful, and even jarring at times.
And yet, at the same time, I find it frustrating that God chooses to use means that don’t seem nearly as effective as what I might choose. Why doesn’t he just speak with a booming voice from heaven, or peel back the curtain of heaven so that we could see him clearly? We could probably think of lots of ways that God could get the job done of revealing himself. But for some reason, he chooses to work in subtle ways, like the words of Scripture, the soft whisper of the Holy Spirit, a beautiful view of his creation. Even the Incarnation, as amazing as it is, is the epitome of subtlety when you think of all the ways that God could have made his entrance into the world.
There are any number of possible explanations for why God chooses to work in these subtle ways, but what’s clear is that he is not interested simply in getting the job done in the most efficient way. If he did things that way, something might be lost in the process.
One crucial thing that God’s subtlety allows is for our imagination to be awakened. The imagination is a wonderful, even sacred thing, because when it is active it means that we are engaged at the deepest level. Whether writing a story, searching for the solution to a problem, or expressing a thought through visual art, we experience a creative energy that taps into a central aspect of what it means to be human.
Imagination plays a vital role in communication, but it can be short circuited by the communicator’s lack of subtlety. There is an art to holding back just enough information at first in a way that makes the listener wonder what’s coming next, that gets them to try and construct where the story line or argument is going. If it’s too obvious, the listener is not engaged at that deeply creative level.
We spend much of our lives wondering what is coming next, wondering where this story is going. That can be frustrating, especially when we believe in a God who could give us all the answers if he chose to. But maybe this wouldn’t be the best thing, because our sacred imaginations wouldn’t be engaged in the same way. Our imagination is engaged when we need to visualize the throne room of heaven based on Ezekiel’s description, rather than be shown it directly. The offer of the Kingdom of God appeals to our hearts when it is shown to us in a parable, rather than having a bunch of soldiers force us to swear allegiance. And somehow we understand God’s love in a deeper way through a period of suffering than if he just gave us a “nice” life.
During Advent, we say over and over again, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and it can sometimes seem like he never comes. But he is coming all the time into our lives in subtle ways, ways that awaken our imagination. Maybe it’s through the narrative that we hear once again this season about Israel longing for redemption. Maybe it’s our hope that God has provided for us the biggest piece of the redemption of the world in Christ. Maybe a difficult situation in our family makes the meaning of this season all the more poignant. Whatever unresolved situation you’re in, whatever unanswered questions you have, ask yourself how God might be using those things to provoke your imagination to explore who he is and how he wants to know and be known by you.
God is actively engaged in our lives, if we take a moment to see him working. I hope this Advent season helps awaken your imagination and prepares your heart to respond to the ways that God is revealing himself to you.