There are other dimensions to prophecy that we need to consider. One that is easy to overlook but needs to be discussed now is your imagination. Prophecy has everything to do with expanding your imagination, and that has everything to do with image.
A Biblical Worldview
We humans are a very special creature – a very special part of creation. God made us to bear his image in the world (Gen. 1:26-27). Out of all the creatures he made, we are the only kind that does this. This means we are like a linchpin which holds all of creation together. Think of it. That is truly special. Therefore, you can see why sin in the lives of these creatures has such a devastating effect on the whole world.
I once read a great illustration[i] that characterized the issue like this: In ancient times, when one king went to war in the distant lands of another and the traveling army conquered the local one, the victorious king would set up a statue of himself in the distant land before returning to his palace. The statue bore his image and effectively told all the newly conquered people who is now in charge of their country.
This illustrates what God did in the creation story. God came and conquered the chaos of nothingness[ii] and ordered it all into a beautiful, harmonious world of peace. On the sixth day, he made the image-bearing human – his crowning achievement! This creature acts like the statue that tells the newly conquered forces of chaos who is in charge of this creation.
Of course sin changes that dramatically. It’s as if the statue took a notion to not look like the king whose image it is meant to bear. It’s as if the statue thinks it is in charge. That is a confusing message for all of creation to receive.
As it turns out, it does not mean that the whole creation is plunged back into utter chaos, but it does mean some chaos breaks out in the good creation. It means there is significant damage to the harmony and peace that God wants for the world. But Scripture tells us that “the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19), and that suggests that God is working on the problem.
That, in turn, suggests that God has a message for the creation (and the creatures – including people), a message of hope and redemption. And it has to do with him expressing himself through his people to the creation, which implies a huge impact on our imagination!
That has everything to do with prophecy. We fallen human creatures still carry the vocation to bear God’s image within us, but it is a little confused (sometimes a lot confused) with the forces of chaos. I suggest that this theological worldview goes a long way in explaining why we humans have an amazing capacity and hunger to obsess on our image! Of course usually that manifests itself in sin, but it is meant to serve the Creator God.
Power, Pride & Bluffing
Here’s the thing: Typically we want to put our hands on the mantle of power – real power. But most of the time real power is not really available to us – at least not in the ways that make us look good. And so we settle all the time for fake power that merely looks like real power. The word for this is “bluffing.”
We like to be proud. Pride is an American way of life. You might be poor and needy, but “too proud to beg.” You might live in a nice house, wear fancy clothes, drive a cool car, and be in debt up to your neck, but at least you look good doing it! This kind of image obsession is all too common in our culture, and it manifests itself in thousands of ways. Even victims face the temptation to occupy a warped kind of pride that allows them to have scorn for the one(s) God would have them forgive, which will be problematic for them in the great coming Judgment (Matt. 6:15). “The victim card” knows no humility.
The image bearer is obsessed with imagining he is in charge rather than the true king. Basically, we are skilled at bluffing. And though this has not entirely destroyed the creation beyond all redemption, it has unleashed incredible pain, chaos, suffering, and death into the world. It is the image bearer’s job to imagine the world differently. It takes imagination to run the world as if love were in charge rather than fear and death – rather than chaos or evil.
That is where prophecy really comes in. The prophet brings a message of the imagination for the imagination – a message about the image we were made to bear for our imagination to grasp and implement. Because a strange thing happens in the world when the image bearer bluffs like he (or she) is in charge rather than the true king. Fear and death begin to rule the image bearer like a slave-master! We set out to order the world alright, but not in the service of love, rather we obey “the bottom line” or “might makes right” or “he who dies with the most toys wins” or “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (I Cor. 15:32). You have heard these and hundreds of statements like them. They crack the whip, and we obey them – all because we do not run the world in the service of love.
Imagine that God came and sat down in a chair next to you. How do you think the paint on the wall nearby would react? The cracks and chips in the paint would smarten up! Don’t you think? Well look at Scripture and see that the power of the image of God will make mountains bow down, valleys stand at attention, and crooked places straighten out! (Isa. 40:3-5). The image bearer can ask the sun and moon to obey, and they will! (Josh. 10:13). The image bearer can walk on water! (Mark 6:49). And that is just for starters!
The prophet knows this and brings an imaginative message to the imagination. The image bearers need this challenge so that their tiny, anemic, and sickly imagination(s) will expand, and EXPAND and …
to a size that God might enter and make his home there.
[i] Illustration from N. T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2006), pp 36-37.
[ii] I have no desire to argue for or against creatio ex nihilo. To argue either way is to reach beyond the scope or point of this book.