Last week, we posted a list of summer reading suggestions. I enjoyed reading through the comments and seeing the great breadth of reading interests within the Boundless community. I even added several suggestions to my own summer reading list. One commenter questioned whether anyone reads fiction anymore and provoked several responses from many who proudly enjoy reading fiction. My favorite was a reader who jokingly admitted to “slaughtering her braincells on fiction.”
Of course she was joking, but I think many of us place fiction in that “guilty pleasure” realm of our Christian experience. We suspect since we aren’t learning anything that, perhaps, reading fiction is little more than a pleasurable waste of time. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Reading fiction is good for you and your brain cells.
One of the greatest things we can do in our Christian life is intentionally cultivate our imaginations. Too often we think of our imagination similar to an athletic or artistic skill; some have it and some don’t. However, I believe our imaginations can and should be cultivated. One of the greatest capacities our minds have is to take us to places we’ve never been and introduce us to people we’ve never met. The imagination can — as it often has for me — turn a rainy Saturday into a great adventure.
I believe one of the greatest aspects of being human is the God-given ability to create. God is our creator, and He was given us an ability to create as well. All peoples and cultures celebrate great creators, whether they create music, art or literature. We celebrate the Michelangelos, Beethovens and Tolkiens of history because they made something beautiful. They took their God-given capacity to create and exceeded all expectation. In the same vain, Jonathan Edwards once wrote:
For as God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent: and all beauty to be found throughout the whole creation is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fullness of brightness and glory: God … is the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty.
One reason we should enjoy good fiction is to admire an author’s creative beauty, which reflects God’s beauty. Admittedly, we can and some do use their creative ability to create works that distort God’s glory. Even in the realm of fiction, we must make careful choices. We should look to read works that reflect God’s beauty and doesn’t distort it (the way pornography does, for example).
Another reason we should enjoy fiction is the close connection between our imagination and faith. We usually associate imagination with things that aren’t real and faith with things that are, but imagination can help us believe solidly in a reality that we can’t see, touch or experience. As Hebrews 11:1 explains, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Most of us won’t know all that waits for us in heaven until we go there after death, but Jesus talked about heaven as a reality that we must believe in by faith now. Jesus told His disciples to live their lives as if heaven was real, because it is real. For us, this takes faith. Francis Schaeffer once said, “The Christian is the one whose imagination should fly beyond the stars.” Jesus (and Schaeffer) knew that it is impossible to live the Christian life well without a strong belief in the reality of the unseen realm.
If heaven and hell remain philosophical concepts in our minds that we can’t grasp, then we’ll struggle to live our lives in light of everything waiting for us there. That’s why Jesus told His followers to seek first the kingdom of heaven and the eternal rewards waiting there (Matthew 6:19-21; 33). Jesus wanted His followers to live as if what they do here matters for eternity, because it does.
And this is something, I believe, fiction can help us with. As we cultivate our imaginations, we develop our mind’s capacity to paint eternal pictures we can’t see with our eyes. One of the great dangers of the societal shift from reading for pleasure toward watching television/movies for pleasure, is the tragic neglect of developing our imagination. The latter fills in the details for us, while reading employs the imagination to paint the story.
So pick up a great work of fiction this summer guilt-free and cultivate your own ability to paint mental pictures of the invisible, eternal reality.