Monday, February 25, 2008

The Eyes of the Heart part 1

So far Ted Dekker in The Slumber of Christianity has presented the case of how we, as followers of Jesus, have lost our desire for heaven and thus have lost what it really means to live. When we expect the things of this life to satisfy the longings of our hearts we will be disappointed because those longings can only be satisfied in heaven. On the other hand when we hope for heaven the things of this life become a little sweeter because we are not expecting them to satisfy us.

As Dekker moves into chapter 8 of his book he begins to take us on a journey to bring us out of slumber so we can once again live with passion because of the hope that we have discovered. This journey begins with seeing the world with the eyes of our heart. To push away from focusing on just the material and seeing the larger picture.

One of the problems we face as Christians is using language that doesn’t match up with the way we live. We talk about a “spiritual” life but we continue to live as if the physical was the most important part of life.
“Most Christians speak as though their spiritual beings are far more material than their bodies, yet they tend to dismiss spiritualism for fear of heresy prompted primarily by the New Age movement. We say we fight against principalities and powers and our pleasure is of another world, but we stay firmly planted in this world...”(p. 128)


We talk the talk, we parrot what we have heard other Christians say, but it isn’t real in our lives. Far too many of us know the lingo but we don’t know what it means. Our lives and our desires remain unaffected by what we have been taught. We don’t even know what to hope for.
“If the eyes of the heart can’t see heaven, the mind will never obsess after it. Most Christians have no vision at all of the afterlife, much less a vision that is attractive or inspiring, The eyes of their hearts have grown heavy and have subsequently been closed by slumber, and they no longer see the afterlife with the eyes of their hearts. Without a vision of heaven in clear view, they quickly lose interest.” (p. 129)


I have been there and many ways I am still there. I prefer to think about the future of my life here on earth rather than to think about what heaven will be like. It is a little mysterious and a little scary. The result is that we settle for talking about life right now rather than nurturing the hope for heaven in our lives.

So how do we begin to see with the eyes of our heart? According to Dekker we begin by gaining knowledge through word pictures and developing our imaginations.
“The eyes of the heart see with vision that brings knowledge through metaphor and analogy and word pictures and story. It is a vision that resides in the mind and the heart, but it is not less spectacular than any vision see with the eyes.” (p. 130)


When talking about things we can’t see all we can do is use words that will get our imaginations working. Since we can’t see heaven now we have to use our imagination to understand what we are talking about. That is part of what it means to see with the eyes of the heart. Dekker points his readers to Ephesians 1:18-19:
18 Then, with the eyes of your hearts enlightened, you will know the hope of his calling, the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and the unlimited greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his mighty strength... (ISV)


Dekker goes on to write:
“Paul was praying that his readers’ minds would be expanded so they might understand the richness of the bliss that awaited them in a way that fueled their desire. He was begging them to envision heaven. He was crying out for them to have a clear vision of their inheritance.” (p. 131)


When we use our imagination we can begin to form an idea of what heaven is like even though we have not seen it. Imagination is a gift from God and it sets us apart from the rest of creation. Imagination enables us to think beyond the here and now.
“Do birds use their imaginations? Do ants or worms? It is we humans, created in the image of God, who are blessed with an imagination. And it is through the imagination that our hope is primarily informed.” (p. 132)


Before you bristle at the notion that imagination plays such a key part in informing us about God and heaven remember that we live in a world of imagination. We use our imaginations so much that we don’t even realize that we are doing it. Imagining is part of life.
“If you think about this carefully, you will quickly discover that we live in a world of imagination. The moment something becomes reality, it passes into history, right? Our minds are occupied primarily with memories of the past and imaginations of what might occur later. We experience the present, but that experience is so fleeting that our primary engagement of any experience is through the imagination, either in the form of anticipation or memory. We depend on our imaginations.” (p. 133)


Perhaps the reason we aren’t more hopeful for heaven is because we are much too busy using our imaginations to anticipate future events in our lives.
“Again I will ask, are you desperate for heaven? No? May I suggest it’s because you have no living hope for the bless of heaven? And you have no living hope because you imagine heaven to be far less interesting than the earthly vacation you have your eyes on, or the man you would like to marry. Your imagination in regard to the vacation or the man is fully fleshed out. You’ve already picked out the destination for the vacation and the tuxedo for the man.” (p. 134)


What an indictment! We have allowed our lives to become consumed with this world and have ignored the promise of heaven. We have lost the vision for heaven.
“But vision is nothing more, or less, than raw imagination. It is a perceived outcome that follows a plan of action with the hopes of achieving that outcome. Envisioning an outcome, such as heaven, is the same as imagining that outcome.” (p. 135)


Dekker reminds us what Solomon wrote about vision: Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Prov. 29:18; KJV) He then goes on to write:
“Where there is no imagined outcome fueled by the creative power granted us by God, our hope will surely die and we will slip into a deep slumber. (p. 135)


Our imaginations play a key part in our interactions with God:
“In fact, we experience God primarily through our imaginations.

“Our experience of God is based on faith and hope, not on what we can see now, as Paul so emphatically insisted; otherwise, it would be no hope at all. So when I say that we experience God primarily through our imaginations, I am saying nothing new. I’m simply using rather pointed terms to say what we all already know. Our interaction with God occurs in our minds and hearts.” (p. 136)


In order to communicate truth to us God has relied heavily on our imaginations:
“Are you hearing this? God leans heavily on the human imagination when communicating with humanity. In fact, the use of mental images is God’s primary paradigm for illustrating truth, but through the writers of the Bible and through Christ’s use of parables.
“Now there is one critical element to figurative language that you must understand. Figurative language is fictional.” (p. 139)


I think this is the reason why we react negatively at the suggestion that we experience God through imagination. Fiction and imagination seems to mean not true, but that isn’t necessarily the case. In this case it means something that isn’t real at this moment. For example the Bible calls Jesus the “Lion from the Tribe of Judah.” Yet, Jesus isn’t a real lion. The name is a metaphor to help us understand His character.

What Dekker is trying to accomplish is something the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis have already suggested: myth is a means God communicates truth. We, as followers of Jesus, should embrace story as a way to communicate the God’s truth to a reluctant people as well as to fuel our imaginations for the life that is to come.

Find the other chapters:
Chapter 1: The Death of our Dreams
Chapter 2: The Search for Pleasure
Chapter 3: Foundations
Chapter 4: Give Me Pleasure or Give Me Death
Chapter 5: The Slippery Slope to Slumber
Chapter 6: In Living We Die; In Dying We Live
Chapter 7: Created to Obsess

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