Failure of Imagination


My favorite passage in Graham Greene’s classic novel, The Power and the Glory, is found in a prison cell, when the main character (a pitiable alcoholic priest) considers one of his cell mates. The novel is set in a time when Christianity was outlawed in Mexico, and the sad priest is on the run. His alcohol addiction lands him in jail, an inhuman, overcrowded jail. It is here, surrounded by hopelessness, that the priest reveals who he is, only to find himself ridiculed by a woman for being a bad priest.

Greene writes, He couldn’t see her in the darkness, but there were plenty of faces he could remember from the old days which fitted the voice. When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity… that was a quality God’s image carried with it… when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.

Hate was just a failure of imagination. That is a statement I intend to carry with me. Jesus-followers are called to learn to love one another, but maybe the prerequisite course is to first learn how not to hate. To do so, we must learn to use our imaginations, to see God in every person. Jesus said that it is easy to love those who love us, those who are like us, those we count naturally as friends and family. It is not easy to learn to love those different from us: for some, this is those who are looked down on in society (the outcasts), while for others, this is the religiously stuffy.

Whoever it may be, the call is to look beyond the exterior, to employ the imagination to see hints of God in those we find different, not to hate, and then, if by grace, to love.


4 Responses to “Failure of Imagination”

  1. Michael Lasley Says:

    Nice post, Al. I think our imagination lets us down in a lot of areas — not just in seeing people the way God wants us to see them. In the book _We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed With our Families_, a book about the genocide in Rwanda, the writer talked a lot about imagination and how part of the problem he had with understanding the genocide was his lack of imagination. His imagination didn’t allow him to understand death on that level. Not trying to change the subject. I just like the idea of us changing the way we imagine things. Which is so very hard. Mikey

  2. Whitney Says:

    When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity…

    Is this why we see criminals or just really bad people who’ve been caught or exposed and feel a little bit sorry for them?

    I don’t feel sorry for them that they were caught/exposed; I feel sorry that surely they must know how much they messed up, right? That they’ve totally screwed up their lives with their selfish acts? That they’ve hurt people? That they wish they could go back and do it over?

    I know there is always the possibility that the only reason they feel the least bit of remorse is because they got caught, but as a whole, society isn’t made up of narcissistic sociapaths.

    Human beings have feelings and some sense of morality because we ARE made in God’s image. I don’t know where this comment is going….just some thoughts.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    To answer your question, Whitney, I truly hope so. I can relate to your question, and from my personal standpoint, I hope it is some hint of love in me when I feel that twinge of pity.

    I, for one, don’t think we take Jesus seriously when He challenges us to actually love everybody.

    Wasn’t that the line from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin?” “Don’t the Bible say we’re to love everybody?” “Oh, the Bible says lots of things, but no one ever thinks about doin’ them!”

    And Mikey, how’s-about lunch tomorrow?

    I think I’d like to read the book you mentioned. I found the movie Hotel Rwanda very moving, so I suspect that the saying would hold true that the book is always better.

    Since we haven’t had a book review in a little while (HINT!!!HINT!!!), I was wondering if you (Mikey) had read “Father Joe” by Tony Hendra. I think it was Juvenal that sent me a review of the book a long time ago because it sounded interesting, and I bought it back then, but I just got around to reading it this week. It is very interesting. I was just wondering if anyone else had read it.

  4. Michael Lasley Says:

    Enjoyed lunch yesterday, Al. It’s been too long since we’ve seen each other. You’re sexier than ever. I haven’t read “Father Joe,” but I’ll look it up. And I posted today just for you, even though it wasn’t really a finished article.

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