How Can Imagination Be Redemptive?

By Mark D. Roberts

May 2, 2023

Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive

Scripture — Habakkuk 2:3 (NAB)

For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.


Our imaginations are redemptive when they inspire and guide us to participate in the redemptive work of God. We see injustice but imagine justice. We see brokenness but imagine wholeness. But we don’t just sit there and imagine. Rather, our redemptive imaginations stir us up to action.

This devotion is part of the series, Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive.


In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I talked about how imagination, though tied etymologically to the Latin word imago, meaning “image,” is not only a visual experience. We can use our imaginations in relationship to all of our senses: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching. Moreover, we can imagine complex experiences or realities that transcend our individual senses. We can dream of new communities and untold opportunities. We can even imagine the kingdom of God, as James K. A. Smith reminds us.

In this way, our imaginations can be redemptive. We can share in God’s work of redeeming all things through Christ. We can see injustice and imagine justice. We can see poverty and imagine plenty. We can see war and imagine peace. We can see brokenness and imagine wholeness. But truly redemptive imaginations don’t just sit there and see better things. Rather, they motivate and equip us to invest our lives in God’s redemptive mission.

When I think of redemptive imagination at work, my own imagination pictures Father Greg Boyle. As a young Catholic priest, Father Boyle was assigned to one of the poorest churches in Los Angeles. His parish was filled with gangs and the violence that went along with them, along with ample injustice and limited hope.

But Father Boyle saw what was happening around him with redemptive imagination. He envisioned a world in which those who would be gang members could find good work, a world in which young men and women without hope might begin to find some. In time, Father Boyle oversaw the development of programs and businesses that existed first in his imagination. Among other things, he founded Homeboy Industries, “the largest gang-intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world.”

Father Greg, as he likes to be called, wrote a book about his life’s work and vision, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. At the center of his mission is the desire to create a transformative “community of kinship.” Here’s how he explains it:

No daylight to separate us.

Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint . . . and if it delays, wait for it.” (italics added, p. 190).

Central to Father Greg’s work is his imagination. He imagined a circle of compassion in a place where compassion was once hard to find. He imagined nobody standing outside of that circle, no matter their earthly condition. How did he do this? He answers in this phrase, “Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion.” How? With God! With God’s power. With God’s vision. With God’s justice. With God’s compassion. With God’s grace. All of which ignite the imagination.

Father Greg offers us an extraordinary picture of redemptive imagination. This is both wonderful and yet, perhaps not so wonderful. I don’t have to explain the wonderful part. I’m sure you get it. But the not-so-wonderful part has to do with the downside of telling amazing stories about amazing people. Such stories might inspire us. Or they might discourage us. After learning about Father Greg, I might think, “Surely I could never be like him.”  So, rather than looking at my world with the eyes of redemptive imagination, I might convince myself I can’t really make a difference in my neighborhood, my family, my church, my workplace, or my part of the world.

You and I may never found anything as impressively redemptive as Homeboy Industries. We may never redeem thousands of lives from poverty, violence, and prejudice. But if our hearts are open and our minds are available to God, then God will stir up our imaginations. For us, the exercise of redemptive imagination may have to do with unifying a splintered family, defending someone victimized by racism, or leading our church in a new mission of community engagement. It may be that we will help our workplaces treat all employees fairly, or help provide jobs for folks who have a hard time getting them. For us, the first step is to imagine, with God, focusing on God’s priorities and being available to the inspiration of God’s Spirit. And if the vision delays, “wait for it, it will surely come” (Habakkuk 2:3).


When you hear the phrase “redemptive imagination,” what do you think?

Can you think of examples of people exercising their redemptive imaginations in the world?

How open are you to learning to imagine new things with God?


As you think about your part of the world, where do you see brokenness that needs to be redeemed? Ask the Lord to stir up your imagination as to how you might share in the redemptive work of the kingdom of God.


Gracious God, thank you for those who exercise their redemptive imaginations. Thank you for what they teach us and how they encourage us. We thank you, in particular, for Father Greg and his work in Los Angeles. What an inspiration he is!

Yet, as I say this, I ask that you keep me from thinking that, since I could never be Father Greg, I don’t have a role to play in your redemptive mission. Help me to be available to you. Inspire my imagination to see what you might have me do as part of your kingdom. Use me, Lord, no matter where I am, whether I’m at work or home, in my church or my local market. Give me eyes to see imaginatively what you want to do in and through me. To you be all the glory! Amen.

Banner image by Rene Ranisch on Unsplash.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Idolatrous Work (Habakkuk 2:1-20; Zephaniah 1:14-18).

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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