Part 1: Real Imagination

Karl Rahner’s very last lecture made this point: theologians have not explored eternal life enough. He’s correct, so let’s do it ourselves. Let’s imagine what eternal life is like.

We were meant to live forever and not have to just imagine it. But you know what happened. We’re all going to die. Can we imagine eternal life?

The imagination is a way of knowing. It gives content to our theological virtue of hope. Imagination is very flawed – mistakes things’ identities, sees what isn’t there, proposes dumb acts. It is vague, indefinite sometimes, and impossible to control. But it is a way of knowing.

This blog gives the first of three points.

Before sin, our imagination was flawless. What Adam and Eve may do and can do, they both imagine at the same time. Their imagination was like hearing music: both of them heard the same music at the same time, and both of them imagined what they would do next at the same time, exactly.

Everything Eve says registers in Adam’s mind and heart exactly as she means it – flawlessly. Nothing left over. Ditto with what Adam says.

They cannot imagine all the things that God imagines. Their imagination reaches limits – we know that. First of all, they are finite and everything about them is limited, circumscribed, contained. But they are also limited by their love – by “being in love” – because love really is constraining, limiting, and a wonderful, wonderful freedom – because it’s what we are created for. A violin can play only a certain range of notes in its own way – but it makes wonderful music and it’s silly to focus on its limits.

Further, their imagination is limited because they cannot imagine anything not loving – cannot even imagine anything unloving. Wouldn’t that be fine – to be unable to even imagine evil?

They are supremely peaceful and joyful. They are limited, of course – they are creatures, not gods. They cannot imagine being totally different than they are (God can – and did). That is the precipice they can fall over to disaster: thinking that they are gods, that they can decide what and who they are and enacting the false thought. But they won’t jump over that precipice on their own. They cannot even imagine doing wrong. They need “help.”

For reasons we do not know, God allows a wicked spirit to help them imagine something which is not loving, not good. A lie. A sin.

That’s for the next blog, but before you go, think of this: Suppose your imagination worked perfectly and you desired only loving things. Suppose you just brushed aside even imagining doing what is selfish, egotistical, and unloving – just brushed it aside like salt off the tablecloth. We don’t do that automatically right now. But we can practice and keep begging God to “lead us not into temptation” and to give us only holy desires and impulses. Imagine that!