A song popularized long ago by Dean Martin has the lines,
Try standing on a corner, watching all the girls go by.
You can’t go to jail for what you’re thinking,
Or for that wooed look in your eye.
True, you won’t go to jail for mentally ravishing those girls, but you may go to hell.
An Amazing Gift From God
We human beings, in contrast to animals, are the species with the ability to think, to imagine, and to visualize. We have the amazing God-given talent to picture in our mind something that does not yet exist, to mentally create situations that have not happened.
The problem with all of God’s gifts is that Satan perverts them. He tempts people to misuse every good thing God provides. For instance, God gave us the capacity to use words to praise Him and speak the truth, but Satan turns that to cursing and lying.
The Power of Imagination
Nowhere is that more clear than in the use of our imagination. Every kind deed, every self-sacrificing action anyone has ever done on earth started as a thought in someone’s head. So did every evil deed.
That is why Jesus warned his male hearers to stop looking at women and imagine having sex with them. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he said. And He could have added, “If you keep on thinking that way, you will eventually commit the actual, physical act with her or someone like her.”
Over time, we human beings tend to accomplish the things we think about imaginatively. The stronger and more emotionally we respond to our focused thinking and visualizing, the more sure the eventual outcome will match our mental picture.
Researchers showed that our imagination is even stronger than our will. They drew a vertical and a horizontal line on a square sheet of paper dividing it into four equal squares. They asked each subject to hold one end of a half-metre long piece of string with a small weight at the bottom, extend their arm and commit to holding the weight directly above the intersection of the lines in the centre of the paper.
The researcher then told him, “Close your eyes while holding the weight steadily over the intersection, but imagine it is swinging back and forth from left to right.”
In nearly every case, the weight would soon start to swing in whatever direction the researcher told the subjects to imagine it was moving.
A Firm Commitment is No Match for Undisciplined Imagination
Imagination and fantasizing trumps firm decisions and commitment. Marriage is an excellent example. A couple will make a firm decision to be faithful to each other and make a public commitment during their wedding ceremony. But if either of those spouses consistently fantasizes about being intimate with other people, that marriage is doomed. Over time, the tendency is for that fantasy to become real. As the poet Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
So what should you and I think about? Here’s the apostle Paul’s advice: “Whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Phil. 4:8.
A Disciplined Imagination
Imagination can also strengthen and confirm commitment. My wife and I committed ourselves to serve the Canela people of Brazil by translating the Word of God for them. We used our God-given imagination constantly as we mentally pictured Canela villagers reading the Bible in their own language and applying its truths to their lives. Decades later our dream became a reality as Canelas read the Scriptures and started cleaning up the negative, messy things that Satan had introduced into their culture.
Some Personal Questions
To build enduring, satisfying marriages, both spouses need to commit to spend the rest of their lives with each other. That is a given. But how many of us married folk make the commitment every day to fantasize, dream, and imagine intimacy only with each other?
And do we keep that commitment even when we are standing on a corner and happen to see an attractive person of the opposite sex going by? Or do we watch and imagine?