In "Voices of Faith," religious leaders answer readers' questions.
Source of belief
Rabbi Mark Levin of Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kan.: Religions teach that we are both physical and spiritual creatures. Our knowledge of the physical world originates with our senses. But the spiritual world we understand through interpretations of the human imagination: the capacity to consider things that are not physically present before us.
Religion largely concerns matters of redemption: the perfection and ultimate meaning of the world. Christmas celebrates for the Christian the potential redemption of the world by a Redeemer. Jews believe the messiah will yet perfect the world. These beliefs are products of the imagination in that we can mentally conceive of them but cannot prove their veracity scientifically. Our brains order reality and imagine the world as if these things are true, and we act accordingly.
Jews live by the mitzvah system, the commandments of God, the Talmud and subsequent codes of Jewish law and practice. These follow a system developed by the rabbis, scholars of the first five centuries C.E. (Common Era). This extraordinary religious system describes the Jewish way of seeing the world, which differs from the Christian perspective, the Hindu perspective, the Muslim perspective and the perspective of every other religion. Each belief system utilizes the imagination to describe reality in accordance with the believers' experience.
Imagination does not simply play a role in faith. We could not have faith without the human imagination.
The Rev. Fran T. Cary, pastor of Trinity A.M.E. Church, Kansas City, Kan.: Imagination is one of God's provisions to humankind. The image-making and pictorial faculty of the mind gives us the ability to illuminate our speech and writings. We are able to present new views and applications of things, truths and conceptions. It is the artist's greatest qualification and brings out the talent of inventors. It is through imagination that we see new machinery, architecture and landscape.
Imagination does play a role in faith. If you can't imagine God doing great things, wondrous things, unexpected things, impossible things, then your faith has nothing to build on; it's limited, and so is God.
As Christians, we don't solely rely on our imagination but on hope, which is the work of the Holy Spirit within us, and the word of God. While faith requires being convinced that what we believe is true, just knowing the truth is only half of faith. Romans 10:17 says, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." God's word must be hoped for, embraced and seized.
As we celebrate Christmas, let us embrace the story of the Christ child and imagine how Mary and Joseph had to face many obstacles with nothing but their trust in God. Read about their dangers and their phenomenal leap of faith. Remember, "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1 Love, Peace and Joy!