I’ve been pondering the truth that wisdom requires a certain amount of imagination. Consider that experiment that you probably heard about if you took Psychology 101. The lady with the clipboard sits a kindergartener down in front of a little candy bar–the kind people put in trick-or-treat bags–and says “I’m going to leave now; I’ll come back in half an hour. You’re welcome to eat this candy bar. But if you can resist eating it until I get back, I’ll give you a big candy bar in half an hour.” Then she leaves the poor kid to his ruminations. About 70-75% of the time, the little candy bar was gone by the time the lady with the clipboard got back.
The five-year-old’s inability to wait for the big candy bar was really a failure of the imagination. The thing he could see seemed so much realer than the thing he could not see.He understood that a big candy bar would be better than a little candy bar. But still, that big candy bar was a theoretical candy bar. The little one was right there in front of him. He could hold it in his hand, rattle the wrapper.

The candy bar experiment is really a reworking of the story of Jacob and Esau. Esau came home ravenous from the hunt. When he saw the stew his brother had made, he wanted it more than anything in the world. So when Jacob offered to trade a bowl of stew for his birthright, he jumped at the offer. The birthright, after all was theoretical–the right be the father of a great nation. When Esau looked around him he saw a remote outpost–a few sheep and goats, three or four tents, a couple of parents who didn’t always get along, and a brother with whom he had very little in common. Some great nation. But a bowl of stew–that was something he could sink his teeth into.

There are many reasons to read stories and tell stories, both fiction and non-fiction. One of the most important is this: Foolishness turns out most times to be a failure of the imagination. The things that are right before our eyes blind us to larger truths that require some imagination to see.

  • Anne Mateer
    12:26 AM, 5 July 2011

    Great post. Something I really needed to hear today. Thanks!

  • Jess
    6:39 PM, 5 July 2011

    Nice, right after I begin re-reading your The World According to Narnia. It all seems to fit together. Maybe God’s trying to tell me something? Although I realize that is a ridiculous question; of course God is constantly trying to tell me something. Perhaps it is better put as, maybe I’m listening to what God has to say for once?

    • Charles Atkinson
      4:40 AM, 6 July 2011

      Jess, definitely true about “The World According to Narnia”! I was having the same thoughts because I just finished it this afternoon. I have always had to have a good fictional work going at the same time as the often dry academic readings. I just knew it was healthy for my mind and soul. And I always have a hunch there was something more than just a frivolous interest in imaginative works. Honestly, half the time they seemed much truer than the “factual” books. Thanks to our friend JR, that hunch is being clarified into a conviction.
      After all, Eustace read all the wrong kinds of books.

      Great post. Re-sharing. Now.


      • livingoakheart
        10:06 PM, 6 July 2011

        Now I feel guilty for not finishing mine yet. Stink.

  • Julie Silander
    1:23 PM, 6 July 2011

    I once heard Tim Keller say that the original Latin root for the word “secular” (saelcularis) actually meant “temporal” or “here and now”.  In other words, “secular” first referred to the world we see and experience as opposed to something unseen and worth waiting for.  I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that to be “secular” is a direct result of lack of imagination.  I love it that stories stir the deepest part of us to stimulate hope and imagination.  To fight off the “secular” so we believe beyond what we can see.

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