“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus is Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10).
Since childhood, I have found a retreat in daydreaming. I would play make-believe all day long in vast, intricate stories that I would invent in my head. My youngest daughter, who is now nine, is known by my loved ones as my “mini-me” in almost every way. However, I don’t think my imagination was a tenth of hers. When she was five or six, she would pretend to be a puppy or a kitty for weeks at a time. When she went through her puppy phase, I had to take her to the doctor because she got a bad chapped sore below her mouth because her tongue was hanging out so often. There were times this girl was so deep in her imagination that I honestly wondered if she could even tell the difference between reality and imagination.
I remember reading something from Madeline L’Engle where she said she couldn’t exactly tell the difference between reality and imagination until she was seven or so. That calmed me a bit. “She’s a little Madeline. She’s part of the next generation of storytellers,” I thought. So I just waited. One day when my daughter was seven or eight, she was in her little world, and I started to pretend alongside her—I entered that world with her in play, probably to get the princess to do a chore or something. I must have really sold the royal request because she looked at me, “Mom, you know this is pretend, right?”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, good. She knows the difference.”
I have since learned in my study of spiritual disciplines that both logic and imagination play a huge role in the practice of Biblical meditation. Some even put forth the idea that the practice of our faith and the practice of our imagination are intricately connected. Do we believe what we see, or what could be? Do we believe in the God of the possible or the God of the impossible? Believing in what is unseen and having the imagination to consider the breadth and depth of God’s love and what he is capable of, involves our imagination. C.S. Lewis calls this a “baptized imagination.”
Using our imagination can sometimes be a way to understand the depth of truth that is beyond our sight.
However, living in the reality of being both a sinner and saint, we know there is both the sanctified imagination and the fallen imagination. When our imagination gets twisted and oppressed by sin, the result is often anxiety, lust, covetousness, and general dissatisfaction with the truth. This is where I have struggled. It’s when we start imagining what could be if things were different—what could be if we had our own way. We imagine not the potential of God, but the potential of us, if we were not weighed down by the things God has given us.
When we read of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness, we see Satan put forth various “realities” before Jesus to see if he can trip him up. Jesus sees through the lies. He is rooted in reality. Put whatever imagined scenario before him; he is not swayed from the truth.
If we want the truth, we must first acknowledge our limitations to see it.
We must not limit what we define as reality to the physical world—or what we see or feel. In other words, if we want the truth, we must first acknowledge our limitations to see it.
The Bible does not define understanding truth in terms of physical or spiritual. It defines those who live in the light and those who live in darkness. This always reminds me of Eden, when Adam and Eve sinned and hid in the shadows. The shadows and the darkness is where we hide from God. We leave reality and enter a blank space away from reality. (Or, as Augustine proclaimed, a place that doesn’t exist.)
Here in the darkness, we create and imagine these faux-realities to justify ourselves. We weave stories about how we did not know; we couldn’t help it, it wasn’t our fault. We try to tell a tale that will justify whatever we did.
Like Adam and Eve, God calls us back to the light. He calls us back into his presence so he can deal with our sin. Where are you? What did you do? Speak the truth. Come back to reality. God deals in truth. He can do no other. He is truth itself.
Even when God refers to himself as “I Am” to Moses, the very words are steeped in reality. I am what is. After breaking the tablets with the 10 Commandments, when Moses returns up the mountain to ask for a new set, God responds by telling Moses about the reality of who he is. “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6-7). That word for “faithfulness” is synonymous with and often translated as “truth.” He is unending love, and he is truth.
That’s what it’s like to be called to the light. We come out of the bushes, like Adam and Eve. We climb back up the mountain with the broken law like Moses and tell God what we have done. This is what it is to walk in the light and walk in the truth. Tell God what you have done. Stop making up stories to justify yourself, and plant yourself in the truth that you have sinned against God. When we are in the truth—we are in God.
Because God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. That is the nature of reality.
1 John 1:5-10 describes this cyclical tension that we find ourselves in over and over again in this lifetime. We sin; we need God; God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us. If we deny any of that, we are lying to ourselves. We are not practicing the truth.
This practicing of the truth is what Martin Luther refers to as “calling a thing what it is” in his Heidelberg Disputation. It is what it means to be a theologian of the cross. We cannot deny our sin or make any attempt to justify it. It must be Christ’s blood and his blood alone that can cleanse it.
This act of calling a thing what it is is like the Old Testament’s repeated calls to remember who God is and what he has done; it is like God asking Adam to name the animals. To paraphrase, God told Adam to “Call that thing what it is.” God is consistently rooting us in reality—both what is seen and unseen—because that is where he is. That is what it means to be with him. Calling us to live in the light is calling us to face the reality of our sin and is calling us to live in his mercy, his forgiveness, and his unfailing love.