Our deep beliefs about right or wrong are rarely developed by mere intellectual reasoning alone. The people in our lives, and the stories and images we share with each other, have a profound influence on the moral truths we hold. And this is why it’s good to regularly step back and consider what has been shaping our moral imaginations.
Our ability to think and imagine possibilities is a skill that’s developed and shaped in large part by our environment. Certainly, real life examples and limitations will play a part. But this is also the reason we tell our kids stories, and fairy tales, and parables.
For example, a story about a character who is willing to make costly sacrifices for the good of others gives us images of possibility for our own life. Our moral imagination has been shaped to include the possibility of sacrificial love. On the other hand, stories merely about the pursuit of personal happiness will generate in us a moral imagination in which this is seen as the highest good.
And, to be sure, simply teaching about sacrificial love does little good if we cannot also imagine this as a possibility. Likewise, the countless warnings against selfishness will be quickly drowned out when this is the very water we swim in.
As such, from childhood we must actively shape the moral imaginations of our kids toward God’s best – considering all the numerous stories and images they’re exposed to. And this journey of intentional discipleship doesn’t stop for us as adults either. Innocent entertainment is anything but innocent if God’s standards for our lives are increasingly impossible even to imagine.
Heartache and grief abound when evil has stolen our ability to imagine profound goodness in our life with God.
In the end, doing good depends on your ability to imagine the good. And this means you must actively shape your moral imagination toward God’s best.