The Downside of Imagination

By Mark D. Roberts

May 10, 2023

Imagination: Redeemed and Redemptive

Scripture — Genesis 3:6 (NRSV)

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.


God has given us the gift of imagination so that we might fulfill our divine callings to serve and glorify God in all we do. What the human imagination inspires can be wonderful. But it can also be terrible. As we see in Genesis 3, the imagination can lead us to turn away from God and God’s purposes. Thus, like the rest of us, our imagination needs to be redeemed and renewed so that it might be used for human good and God’s glory.

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


In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates people in God’s own image. Since imagination is part of God’s nature, human beings also have significant imaginative capacity. They will exercise this capacity in many ways as they fulfill God’s command to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and exercise authority over it.

The Bible starts with a positive picture of the imagination. But things get complicated quickly. In Genesis 2, God invites the first humans to eat from every tree in the garden with one exception. They are to stay away from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16-17). Then, in Genesis 3, the crafty serpent tries to get the woman to eat the forbidden fruit. Though she resists at first, before long she sees “that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (3:6). So the woman, along with her husband, eats the forbidden fruit. Thus, sin enters the world and, with sin, all measure of pain, suffering, injustice, and mortality.

If we look closely at the woman’s motivation for eating the fruit, we note that she accepted the serpent’s claim that it would bring wisdom to the one who ate. But that’s not all that inspired the woman to eat the fruit. Genesis 3:6 also says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food . . . .” Notice, she didn’t just see the tree with her physical eyes. Rather, she saw things about the tree and its fruit that went beyond the visual. She employed her imagination to “see” that the fruit of the tree would be “good for food,” perhaps tasty or nutritious or both.

What led the first humans to sin? Yes, the serpent tempted them. But what energized this temptation was imagination. Imagination led the woman and her partner to see something that was not obvious, to imagine the tastiness of the fruit. After all, they hadn’t tasted the fruit before and didn’t know from experience that it was delicious. Rather, they imagined this possibility. In this way imagination contributed to their decision to disobey God.

Perhaps you can relate to this sad story. I sure can, many times over. Let me share one particularly egregious example. When I was ten years old, my friend Danny and I were playing baseball in my backyard. My dad came out to tell us that we shouldn’t play there because our house had several large sliding glass doors that opened onto the yard. “If you hit a foul ball,” my dad said, “you might break one of the doors. That would be dangerous and expensive.” We told my dad we’d stop playing, so he went back into the house.

As Danny and I stood there feeling disappointed, I had an idea. My imagination envisioned one, last dramatic hit. Maybe I could even hit it over the back fence! As I imagined the glory of such a hit, I asked Danny to pitch to me one more time. So he did. I swung with all of my might, hitting the ball strongly but not squarely. Rather than clearing the fence as I had imagined, it shot off to the right, hitting one of the sliding glass doors and shattering it. Glass flew everywhere, both in and out of the house. In an instant, I knew I was doomed. (For the record, my dad was merciful when I told him what I had done. Two weeks of grounding and having to earn money to pay for the broken glass seemed more than fair to me.)

The upside of imagination is that it enables us to fulfill our God-given callings as we reflect God’s own image. The downside of imagination is that it can draw us away from God and God’s purposes for our lives. Imagination can inspire sin just as easily as it can inspire righteousness. Thus, what God had intended for good – our imagination – can be used for evil.

But that’s not the end of the story, thanks be to God. God has not given up on us, leaving us to imagine all sorts of evil before we do it. Rather, from the day that sin entered the world, God began to act on a plan more imaginative and wonderful than anything the human mind could ever envision. In that plan, God would one day mend what had been broken by sin. God would redeem human beings, including our imagination.

This is good news, to be sure, and I’ll have more to say about it soon. For now, however, I’d encourage you to reflect on the downside of your imagination. This isn’t about wallowing in shame. Rather, it’s being honest about yourself so that you might be open to God’s saving work in you.


Can you remember a time in your life when your imagination led you into sin?

Are there other ways your imagination can hurt you? Perhaps filling you with fear or causing you to worry unnecessarily?


Talk to God about how your imagination can be unhelpful in your life today.


Gracious God, as I read the story of how sin entered the world, I so easily relate. I know how my imagination can lead to temptation, and temptation can lead to sin. I’m sad to say this is a familiar story in my own life.

So I ask for your forgiveness. Forgive me, Lord, for misusing one of your gifts. As you forgive me, I pray also for cleansing. Make my mind and heart clean, O God, so that I might use all of my mental capacities for your purposes.

Help me, I pray, to imagine your goodness and glory, your justice and mercy, your provision and peace. Help me to imagine how I might honor you in all that I do. And then, by your grace, may I do it. Amen.

Banner image by Fumiaki Hayashi 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: People Fall into Sin in Work (Genesis 3:1-24).

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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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