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The Imagination as Explained by Neuroscience and the Bible

Our imaginations are responsible for conjuring up new ideas, creative solutions, and just about anything ingenious and innovative that can be thought of. Many times, its use is reserved for the context of either child’s play or artistic geniuses. It is the creative juice of which some have great amounts while others claim to not have at all.

As the TED-Ed video below points out, there is a profoundly sophisticated and intricate coordination happening in our brain that enables us all to carry out the awe-inspiring feats of human cognition and imagination. The information super highway of our brain allows us to conjure up images, concepts, and ideas that we have never seen, heard, or experienced with our other senses. The brain has to juggle thousands of electrical signals, making sure they all arrive at their destination at precisely the right time. What an amazing feat!

When we look at an object or think of an idea, thousands of neurons in the posterior cortex area of our brain fire. As explained by the video, these neurons encode various characteristics of the object or idea (i.e. house, car, money, success, faith, family). A repetitive firing of these strengthens the connections between each set of neurons, linking them together and thereby forming what’s known as a “neuronal ensemble.” Neurons58b630ef534864b67cfab3b6ef8bad9f that fire together, wire together. For example, if we are asked to imagine what success looks like, our brain will automatically trigger the most prolific reference that it has compiled over our lifetime for success, and the entire ensemble will light up, assembling together a complete mental image or concept. This subconscious-powered image or concept will then become the standard of which we aspire toward.

As scientific as it may be, this principle still doesn’t explain the infinite number of objects that we can conjure up in our imaginations without ever seeing them (hence Ephesians 3:20). The power, intrigue and mystery of God will always win over both the predictability and the anomalies of science.

The neuroscientific details as explained in the video, though fascinating, are not the main point of this article, however. Let’s consider these great complexities and abilities of our imagination in light of Ephesians 3:20, where Apostle Paul, in his prayer for the Ephesians, boasts of the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love and ends the prayer with an exaltation of Father God:

Now unto to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us…”

This verse shows the greatness, dominion, and sovereignty of God. As we see from the above video, we possess a seemingly endless amount of imaginative possibilities. So when Paul exclaims that God is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even imagine,” that ought to really put things into perspective. There is literally nothing too small or big that God cannot do!

The purposeful synchronization required for our brains to come to any form of innovation or original thought is a miracle in and of itself. When applied to one’s spiritual life, it is possible that we are stifling the growth of our faith simply by what we choose to think about or imagine.

The second half of this scripture is often ignored, which is a major key to fully understanding its meaning. This concluding part is a connecting “if/then clause” if you will, adding, “according to His power that is at work within us.” It reads like a legality clause in a terms and conditions statement. A synonym for ‘according to’ is ‘in agreement with’ or ‘in keeping with.’ When replaced with one of these synonymous phrases, the verse then reads: “Now unto to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or imagine, in agreement with His power that is at work within us,” which provides an even clearer perspective of the meaning.

There are a couple of implications here. One is that our petitions and imaginations must be in-line with His power and Spirit which is at work within us. In other words, we must be asking for and imagining things that agree with principles laid out in His word. Another subsequent deduction is that without His power working within us, God is not obligated to do “exceeding abundantly above.”

Put plainly, there is much growth to be gained from allowing our imaginations to “run wild” under the reign, guidance, and direction of Holy Spirit, whereas outside of this

Hand plugging wire into cloudpower, where safeguards are not in place, our imaginations can become more of a hindering stumbling block for sin rather than a stepping stone for faith. We must stay plugged into God’s instructions in Philippians 4:8 to think (imagine) about whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy.”

We don’t want to hinder our faith by only believing God for small things that our mere human minds can easily perceive, but we also don’t want to sway to the other extreme by adhering to the “name it and claim” it ideology. We must always rely on the discernment which comes from Holy Spirit to sift through what goes on in our imagination, casting down vanity and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, while bringing every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Let this scientific knowledge and Ephesians 3:20 inspire us toward a more child-like imaginative faith whereby we are challenged to both take the limits we may have placed on God’s capabilities, while also accepting the gracious “terms and conditions” of his majesty.

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About Chealsea Hayes

Chealsea Hayes, originally from Denver, CO is an addiction counselor, athlete, author and youth mentor in Lafayette, LA where she resides with her husband, Korey. She aims to marry her gift of teaching and writing with her passion for Christ to present biblical concepts in a fresh, relevant and applicable manner.

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