The resolution that formed the Diocesan Reimaginging Task Force called us to engage in prayer and study of scripture to keep us grounded in spirituality as we do our work. To help us in engaging with scripture, The Rev. Marc Vance, rector of St. Paul’s Columbus and task force member, has provided us with a survey of what the Bible has to teach us about imagination, vision, and discernment.
I have done an admittedly cursory review of scripture (in accordance with the resolution chartering the DRTF – the study part, not the cursory part!). I looked at three primary biblical concepts: imagination, vision, and discernment (and variations on those themes). Interestingly, all but one biblical reference to imagination and its variants (thirty-seven, by my count) were negative(!), primarily focusing on the “evil” that lurks in the hearts and minds of those whose highest authority is themselves (think the Magnificat, Luke 1:51). The lone positive reference is from Ephesians 3:20: “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” (Note: This reference is also found at the closing of the each service of the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer, encouraging the community at worship to God-inspired action.)*
The biblical references to vision were more instructive. Probably the most common reference when people do the kind of work we are engaging is Proverbs 29:18: Where there is no vision, the people perish. The first mention of vision is Genesis 15:1, when God comes to Abram in a vision, instructing Abram to not be afraid as something of a precursor to establishing covenant. There are numerous examples of God communicating in like manner across both Old and New Testaments, anywhere from Samuel through the prophets to Paul (Acts 9:10, Damascus road conversion) and Peter (Acts 10:3, taking God’s word to the Gentiles). Isaiah (28:7) and Jeremiah (14:14, 23:16) both warn of the folly of erring in claiming divine vision that is not actually from God, causing one to “stumble.” Job (7:14) even speaks of the “terrifying” nature of visions (understandable, given that God’s vision might lead, nay require, one to go where angels fear to tread!) while Daniel (8:27) describes visions as “astonishing” (or even “appalling”!), necessitating the desire for “understanding” (8:16, 10:1). Habakkuk notes that visions are given for an “appointed time” (i.e. a specific reason, which would seem to be now, given the DRTF’s mandate), but also of the necessity for making the vision “plain,” or communicating plainly so that God’s vision can be understood and accomplish.
Discernment is specifically identified as a gift of God’s Spirit (1 Cor 12:10), but because such gifts are “spiritually discerned” they are reserved for those who are spiritual, that is, who have the “mind of Christ,” (I Cor 2:14-16). Most other pertinent biblical passages refer to using these gifts for the purpose of discerning between good and evil (for example, 2 Samuel 19:35, I Kings 3:9-11, Hebrews 4:12, and others) so that the “time and way” will be determined (Ecclesiastes 8:5).
We can draw several implications and conclusions from this quick study:
Regarding imagination in the context DRTF, we first recognize for whose glory we are working. In such recognition, the possibilities are “infinite,” more than we can even know to ask, limited only by the limitations we place on ourselves. Yet, while the imagination is a limitless source of discerning God’s vision, due care in exercising our imagination is warranted because it can very easily take us far afield from God’s mission.
Seeking the mind of Christ, God’s vision gives the direction that we (DRTF) need to go (so long as it is God’s vision that we discern and not the fancy of our own imaginations).
God’s vision may (and often does) take us in unexpected (astonishing, even terrifying) directions, but trust assuages fear so that we do not falter in the commission of our work.
Not only for our own understanding, but clearly communicating our work and findings (the time and way) is essential for the benefit of the larger body (i.e. parishes, diocese, Church, and Kingdom).
There are more than just these references regarding imagination, vision, and discernment, but these give a good sampling of the scriptural treatment of each of them. Hopefully, this will be adequate for our purposes in the DRTF, but please let me know if it would be helpful to have more in-depth study.
* Thanks to other DRFT members for pointing out the references to Ephesians and the Prayer Book.