The Biblical Role of Imagination and Imaginal Intelligence

It’s helpful to consider what imagination is as put forth in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew term for imagination is either yatsar or yetser. It is a term that is used, for example in the passages in Jeremiah related to the Potter’s trade (e.g., Jer. 18:3).

Yatsar means to fashion in the mind before forming in time and space. That is, to fashion in the mind also holds in its meaning the capacity to imagine, to invent, to form, to frame (in the mind’s eye); and the emphasis of the term is in on the ability to see something—that could be real and true—in the mind’s eye BEFORE it is formed in time and space.

Yet, though it is seen in the mind before it is actually created, the assumption of the term is that the thing “fashioned in the mind” will actually at some point in time be formed in reality (e.g., Jer. 18:4, “But the pot he (the potter) was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it (first in his mind fashioned it a different way to be made—the began to form it again, after having thought of its new form) into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him” (author’s expanded explanations).

The Hebrew concept of imagination includes two dynamic applications: 1) about the human capacity to invent or make something, imagination is the capacity to see what could be but is not yet. An example of this human capacity is Jer. 18:4, “But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” 

And 2) about the human capacity to interact with transcendence, imagination is the capacity to see through what is known into the realities beyond what is known. A profound example of this second dimension of imagination—facilitating interaction with transcendence—is the exercise of faith in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” One who believes faithfully in God looks on the revelation of God has given (culminated in God’s revelation of Jesus, God Incarnate); and though not knowing all there is to know about God’s saving work, knowing enough of God’s work in Christ (Christ’s real and earthly life, death, and Resurrection), to place one’s hope in all the realities of salvation one has in Christ, most of which “we do not see” (Heb 11:1b). That kind of faith is not blind faith. It is true faith; though much of what goes into that faith is beyond the capacity of the human to completely grasp.

Paul says the same thing in Romans 11:34: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (NASU).

Jesus implies this same “faith principle” when speaking to His disciples after His Resurrection, when He said in John 20:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

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