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On Imagination & Immortality

Do we live forever in the things we create?


J.R.R. Tolkien created entire worlds, inhabited them with creatures and races and histories. If you haven’t looked into his detailed maps of Arda or read his lengthy histories of Middle Earth, they’re worth looking at.

He constructed languages for the various races to speak, pulling richly from his linguistic background. He lives on in the lore of today, with many of his sagas and characters living and moving with us, as real as the clouds.

But Tolkien is still dead.

His body rests in the ground and though his ideas and imagination lives among us, disembodied, he is gone. Somewhere else, sure, but he himself is departed from us.

Years ago I wrote that perhaps all of our striving after creativity is a reach for immortality; that we may live on in our creations. The un-poetic truth though, is that my writings will exist when I do not. The words and narratives I’ve created will be read by about 5 people after I die, and then my legacy will fade too. Maybe my great-grandkids will find a few scraps of mine stored in my attic after I’m gone, thumbing through them with curiosity, then moving on to play with their hologram swords.

Then I’ll be gone, both from body and from memory.

So what do we make of this? Is creation even worth it if it’s not a stab at immortality, or is there beauty in the fading of the work of our hands?

Do we maybe make the world an inch better before handing off the baton to the next generation, hoping they will do the same?

Only 4,968,274,433 inches to go until utopia.

Years ago I saw this artist who made exquisite drawings in the dust that gathered on people’s windshields. The pieces were masterfully done, yet they were as fragile as…a layer of dust. An accidental smudge or even a strong exhale may wipe the piece out of existence.


He said that the temporal nature of his pieces is part of what makes them so special. At the time, I didn’t understand. When I make something, I want it to stand. I want to sell it so someone can hang it on their wall…or hang it on my own wall.

Zoom out a little bit and you see that even this stab at permanence is laughable in the grand scheme. Unless your name is da Vinci or Monet, or ends in -bach, you probably won’t be remembered in 1,000 years. In that sense, what difference is there between 5 hours and 50 years of a piece’s existence?

Perhaps even the hunt for beauty in art is as vapid as people trying to enrich their existence with nice cars and Luis Vuitton slippers. Perhaps immortality is even more slippery than we first imagined.

Thanks goodness that all of our pining after beauty, meaning and depth has taken on flesh and lived among us.

God moved into the neighborhood.

A few months ago, I interviewed at a church in a Hispanic neighborhood. It’s a lower-income community and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work there. Part of my excitement was that I too lived in the neighborhood and was happy to live among these folks who, like me, were outcasts, foreigners and downtrodden. They’re the type of people Jesus would chill with.

I didn’t end up getting the job, but think about how it would have looked if I did not live in the neighborhood; if I came from a nicer, ‘whiter’ part of town and ministered to these immigrants, then retreated back to my comfy gated community. How would that look?

In a way, this is what Jesus did, but times a billion.

He could have stayed in His cushy spot in heaven and maintained His godly rights and attributes. Instead, He gave them up.

He moved into the neighborhood and chilled with us.

He didn’t retreat after 5pm every day to His cloudy utopia; He dwelt among us.

So He knows what it’s like to suffer and to long for things.

He knows what it’s like to not want to die.

And thanks to Him, we don’t have to; we can locate our immortality somewhere much grander and more beautiful than a piece of art or a well-worded book.

Have you located this?

Have you given up grasping at the billion straws offered to us by the world, offering to make our lives eternal, or at least, richer while we’re here? I daily forget the depth and beauty offered to us by Christ, favoring little distractions and fleeting dust drawings instead.

May we not seek immortality in our own creations or imaginations. May we find it in the only place it may be found; in Christ Himself.


1 comment on “On Imagination & Immortality

  1. This provides insight I haven’t considered in depth for a long while. Thank you for sharing.

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