Must We Justify Imagination?

God Writing
Then I was the craftsman at his side, I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence… (Proverbs 8:30)

As beings formed in the image of a Creator, we have an innate ability to imagine and to create from those imaginings. For those of us with a strong imaginative bent, it comes as natural as breathing.

One of history’s revolutionary thinkers, Albert Einstein, stated that “imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Imagination fills in the gaps of knowledge, so to speak. It looks at problems and invents potential solutions, it looks at circumstances and envisions previously unseen possibilities. Were it not for the creative imaginations of many famous individuals we would lack many of the inventions that ease our lives today. Yet in their own eras, these inventors often met with scorn.

In our day, imagination is embraced in some spheres, while others remain on the periphery, viewed as frivolous or a distraction from the important matters of life. On occasion, I’ve observed that perspective when it comes to applying imagination to fiction. There are people who don’t understand the purpose of fiction in any form, much less fantasy and the construction of imagined realms.

While I believe there’s ample evidence of the value and impact of fantasy, must we justify the use of imagination, of creation and sub-creation? Must our use of imagination be approved by a checklist that shows the value of our endeavors? Isn’t it enough that it brings joy to craft worlds and realms from flashes of insight or the remnants of dreams? In the end, we create because we were fashioned to…and if reason must be given, that’s more than reason enough.

Your thoughts? Have you encountered those who question the reading or writing of fantasy? Who can’t understand the appeal of imaginative realms? How do you respond?


  • Kessie
    October 5, 2011 - 10:56 am · Reply

    My family was busy reading Harry Potter when the rest of the Christian world was screaming to burn it. We came to call everyone who lacked the imagination to enjoy fantasy “Muggles”. (There were people who hated Lord of the Rings, too. Muggles, all.)

    The only thing I can think of that separates people with imagination from people without imagination, is as children, the ability to dream and wonder was stamped out of them. By parents, by school, by peers, by TV. I’ve known people who started out as kids with imaginations, but years of being belittled for it gradually turned them into Muggles who in turn belittle imagination.

    That’s just in my limited observation pool. I’d be interested in other opinions.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 7, 2011 - 2:19 pm · Reply

      Fascinating observations, Kessie. It’s sad to think of imagination deliberately being squelched, but daydreamers often come under criticism. Though certain personalities tend to be more pragmatic than others, I think everyone is born with at least a spark of imagination…it’s how that spark is nurtured by them and those around them that makes a difference.

  • Mirriam
    October 5, 2011 - 12:15 pm · Reply

    It’s been so long since I’ve had the time to read here!!! I missed it! I’m glad you asked such a great question – I hadn’t thought much about this.
    I think we need to have certain ‘limitations’ based on our Christian values. For instance, in the above comment – I think Harry Potter has many great things going for it. LOTS of great things. But because of witchcraft, I don’t read it (which is a bummer, really). However, I don’t care if my friends read it. I LOVE Lord of the Rings. I read MANY kinds of fantasy – the things that tend to turn me off are 1. ‘Gods’ and ‘Goddesses’ (Greek mythology is something you have to know about, etc. But in a book I’m reading for personal pleasure, I prefer there to be no false religions) 2. Lots of sexual content or any explicit content. 3. Lots of swearing.
    Since these are what turn me off in books, these are what I don’t write. I don’t write anything I think God would disapprove of, basically.
    Oh; and I finally got and read Veiled Rose! It was WONDERFUL!!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 7, 2011 - 2:22 pm · Reply

      I’m glad you’re back, Mirriam! I agree we need boundaries on our imagination, both what we read and write. And it’s certainly wisdom to exercise discernment in our reading and entertainment choices. My concern comes more when people devalue any use of God-given imagination as frivolous.

      So glad you got a copy of Veiled Rose–I love how the world is getting fleshed out and the larger story is beginning to take on shape! And I’m anticipating Moonblood in the spring. 🙂

  • Mary
    October 5, 2011 - 1:24 pm · Reply

    Wonderful post, Sarah. Well thought-out and well-written, as always.
    I have met few people who actually come out and say that writing fiction is useless; most of them just assure me that I’ll never make any money doing it so I should do something else.
    Honestly, I sometimes struggle with the call God has placed on me to write. When I think about things like the Great Commission and martyrs and missionaries giving their entire lives to preaching the gospel, I start feeling like my writing about imaginary worlds really doesn’t do any good in the greater scheme of things.
    I have to remind myself that writing is what God has asked me to do with my life. He has asked me to write stories for His church, stories that reflect His goodness and mercy and love and power. He has given me the gift of an extraordinary imagination to use in that calling, and He is delighted when I use His gift for His glory.
    And, like you said, that’s reason enough for me.
    Thanks again for this post, Sarah. It’s a great encouragement.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 7, 2011 - 2:26 pm · Reply

      Writing is a challenging call, I think. It usually requires years of investment and of laboring in obscurity before any return, not to mention sometimes the false cultural divide between sacred and secular can lead to the perception that call to writing (or any marketplace calling) is less important than church work.

      That’s where the revelation of God’s pleasure brings so much strength and joy, as you stated. I love the way you expressed that. Ultimately we know that God uses us in the greatest way when we’re following his direction and purposes for our lives, whatever they may be.

      Thanks for sharing so honestly–I’m glad you found encouragement!

    • Maria Tatham
      November 9, 2011 - 4:56 pm · Reply

      The Lord is both Creator and Redeemer, so perhaps we have both kinds of things to do: to make and to preach the saving Gospel.
      Also, some encouragement: perhaps you will write something wonderful that our missionaries can read when they need a God-ly escape, or a rest-stop, etc.
      Keep going!

  • Patrick J. Moore
    October 5, 2011 - 1:46 pm · Reply

    Once-upon-a-time… I was always an imaginative child. At any given time I’d most likely be gazing blankly out a window- lost in the fantasies going on inside my own head with supper powers and fantastic adventures involving dragons and unicorns, He-men and Transformers, or playing the What-If game. What if… all the world were upside down? what would that be like?

    I was considered a “good reader” placed in the highest reading groups, but I never really enjoyed fiction. Other’s fantasies seemed dull compared to my own. I wanted to learn about airplanes which made flying imaginings deeper, learn about dinosaurs, giving me bigger scarier things to ponder. The more you know about the further you can stretch your imagination. I enjoyed Choose Your Own Adventure books, and playing Dungeons & Dragons because then the story was mine. I was in control of the decision-making for my character. Why would anyone waste their time on someone else’s made up stories? What good or fun can come of that?

    So I’d never read much fiction until I was inspired about a year ago to write a novel. Since then I’ve been reading and reading and my TBR list seems endless because there are so many books I want to read. Why didn’t I enjoy fiction more as a child?! I have several thoughts on that, but I won’t go into it all here. But on a humorous note, my wife was just telling me the other day about a non-fiction book she wants to read… and I actually thought out-loud “Why would anyone want to read non-fiction? It’s just like real life”. I live in the non-fiction world, why would I want to spend my free-time there? What good or fun can come of that?

    So I don’t think I was ever a Muggle as Kessie calls them, but I was a non-fiction person who didn’t see the value in fiction. And I seem to have come all the way around to the opposite perspective in just the past year.

    • Kessie
      October 5, 2011 - 5:24 pm · Reply

      That makes me laugh, because I’ve known many kids like you were. It’s hard, as a kid, to find books that amaze you. I wish I’d found Diana Wynne Jones as a kid for that very reason. I’m glad you’re reading everything now, though! Gotta read your genre if you’re going to write in it. 🙂

    • Sarah Sawyer
      October 7, 2011 - 2:28 pm · Reply

      How intriguing to hear your journey from non-fiction to fiction, Patrick. As a child I also spent many hours crafting stories inside my mind and asking those what if questions–it was endless entertainment. Yet I equally loved reading stories. It’s interesting the sum of our personalities and experiences can lead to such different outcomes. 🙂

      I’m curious what inspired you to write a novel. It sounds like you’ve had the stories in your head all along, so what finally made you want to write them down?

      And yes, there’s a wealth of amazing books out there. Enjoy exploring!

      • Patrick J. Moore
        October 8, 2011 - 10:05 pm · Reply

        Sarah, even though I wasn’t much of a reader I began writing poetry and very short silly stories sometime during Sr. high school. I had continued ever since with no intention for anyone to ever see my writings except maybe the few friends I shared some with- until the “inspiration” hit in January 2010. After that I started sharing everything a bit more openly. “Inspired” is my sly code for “God asked me to write it” and only applies to the novel. The reactions and questions tend to be easier to deal with that way.

        If you’re curious to know more about this “inspiration” you are welcome to read my post about it at my currently inactive blog:

        Thank you for taking your time to create such an enjoyable blog, Sarah. Your words have the feel of poetry about them, with a deep thinkishness behind them, and a delivery such as a personal note from a dear friend who honestly wants to know what I think about whatever subject you bring up.

        • Sarah Sawyer
          October 11, 2011 - 3:39 pm · Reply

          Very interesting. I started writing as a teen also, and when I began, I was terrified of showing my work to anyone. I wrote my first book without breathing a word to friends or family. So I can identify with writing in private and slowly gathering courage to share things more freely. 🙂

          Speaking of which…that was a beautiful post, Patrick. Thanks for sharing it. I love hearing how God works in the lives of other writers, and I hope that you revive your blog one day (though I understand it can be difficult to keep that up and have time for other writing as well). I can tell God has given you not only imagination, but a vision for excellence in writing and storytelling. That’s powerful!

          And I truly appreciate the encouragement about this blog. It means a great deal. 🙂

  • Himanshu
    August 26, 2015 - 5:26 pm · Reply

    That’s hard work. It’s difficult to fill an empty page. Once you know what you want to write, in broad skoetrs, just pound out material. Doesn’t need to be perfect. Figure on twice what the final length is to be after editing. Good luck! I know Tynan has written several shorties about 100 pages each. I actually have one of them somewhere.

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