Voices: The truth of imagination in ‘I Can Only Imagine’

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“I Can Only Imagine.”

The hit song is now a surprisingly successful motion picture.

If you haven’t seen it, you should.

You will be moved by the story, the acting and the gritty truth about Bart Millard, author of this beautiful song. Its amazing popularity helped Millard launch his Christian band, Mercy Me, which has also been incredibly successful.

“I Can Only Imagine,” certified platinum three times over, is the bestselling Christian song of all time.

Millard was inspired to write the lyrics — in about ten minutes — shortly after the death of his father. He tried to imagine what it might have been like for his dad when he first entered heaven.

And saw Jesus.

Would he dance, would he sing — or would he stand in awe-filled silence before the Savior?

We can only imagine.

‘A much more profound reality’

What is it in this contemporary musical speculation about the Christian’s afterlife that has inspired and comforted millions around the world? Across continents, races, denominations and cultures?

What is it that unites the followers of Jesus Christ of every age? What gives Christians hope in the face of life’s sometimes harsh and sad realities? In a world reeling in turmoil, injustice, violence and corruption, what gives believers strength to believe?

It’s not a song.

“I Can Only Imagine” is an expression — albeit a unique and powerful one — of a much more profound reality for every disciple of Jesus Christ. For the Christian, this reality is the difference between hopeless despair and unquenchable hope. It is the way Christians see the world, the future, their death and their destiny.

It is a supreme reality that determines how each of us who have trusted Christ live our lives. The choices we make, the values we embrace, the service we offer, the love we show and the faith we share.

Our centerpiece

The apostle Paul lays out this reality — this undeniable yet incredible truth — in his second letter to his fellow Christians in Corinth.

The truth is this, says Paul:

“Christ has been raised from the dead” (2 Corinthians 15:20).

The resurrection, the apostle argues, is the centerpiece of the Christian’s faith, the cornerstone of Christian theology and the only hope worth having.

Without the resurrection, Paul reasons, our faith is in vain, our hope is fantasy, our sins remain, we are lost and all is lost.

If this is our “Best Life Now,” we are, Paul laments, the most hopeless and miserable people on earth (1 Corinthians 15:19).

The great apostle insists to the contrary.

On the cross, Jesus won the battle against sin, death and the devil; he secured our eternal redemption, paid the price for our sins and made us right before God.

It was three days later, when he rolled the stone away, that his triumph was signed, sealed and delivered forever. The eternity God placed in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) would now be a guarantee for every man, woman and child who said yes to the Risen Lord.

Death is “swallowed up” in the victory of the empty tomb.

Death still makes us sad when we must say goodbye to our dearest and best, but we enter the cemetery and stand by the grave not in defeat but in victory, not in futility but in faith, not in fear but in confidence.

Death barks, but it cannot bite.

For the Christian, there is no final goodbye, only “au revoir” — until we meet again.

Life awaits

Before Jesus tested the apostle John’s imagination with a spectacular panoramic vision of the future, he told him not to be afraid.


“I am the living one. I died, but look — I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave” (Revelation 1:17–18).

All hail the living Conqueror of the Last Enemy!

All the power of death is dead. Life — grander, more beautiful, more glorious than anything we can imagine — awaits all who die in Christ.

Our imaginations soar in joyful anticipation of what awaits beyond our final breath. Those speculations are sanctified by the power of the resurrection.

Those imaginations are rooted and grounded in the certain hope — the eternal truth — that the chains of death could not hold our Savior. Nor can they hold us.

We shall stand saved before him.

We shall be happy enough to sing.

Excited enough to dance.

In awe enough to be silent.

Seeing Jesus Christ face-to-face.

In heaven forever.

Can you imagine?

Jack Wyman, a former preacher, pastor, community leader and politician, is the Director of Advancement & Donor Relations for Haggai International.

We seek to inform, inspire and challenge you to live like Jesus. Click to learn more about Following Jesus.

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