Speaking to 135 stake conferences Sunday, Sister Ann M. Dibb of the Young Women's general presidency told a heartwarming story about baking rolls for a group of young women. She told of mixing, kneading and putting the rolls in the oven, and the young women remarking on the pleasant aroma of the baking rolls.
Sister Dibb's objective was for the young women to experience something real and concrete in a world full of virtual reality and fantasy.
Sister Dibb is on to something. The Oxford English Dictionary defines "imagination" as the art of forming or imagining a mental concept of what is not actually present in the senses. The result of this process is a mental image or idea, often with the implication that the conception does not correspond to the reality of things. Imagination can also mean "scheming or devising; a device, contrivance, plan, plot; a fanciful project" (OED).
"Some scholars regard imagination as a translation of the Greek word 'phantasy'" (Chambers Dictionary of Etymology).
Imagination is frequently used in conjunction with the word "vain" (OED). It is worth noting that the word vain means devoid of real value, worth or significance; idle, unprofitable, useless; ineffectual; fruitless, futile; empty, vacant, void (OED).
The word imagination is almost always used in scripture in a pejorative sense. For example, in Lehi's dream the great and spacious building he saw "is vain imaginations." It is the imagination of mankind in distinction to the concrete reality of God and his creations.
It is when we turn to the made-up reality of our imagination that we find ourselves moving away from God's reality. Indeed, the principal precursor to the great flood in Genesis was that "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). After the flood, God entered into a new covenant with Noah. It is interesting that there is a clear contrast drawn between the altar that Noah built unto the Lord and "the imagination of man's heart" (Genesis 8:20-21).There is something tantalizing about our vain imaginations. We are often tempted to escape the reality of the demands of the gospel in the empty hope that there is an easier or different way. When we do that, we are defining what we want, not what God wants; we are worshipping and serving the creature, not the Creator (Romans 1:25). We become like the children of Israel who, when they walked "in the imagination of their evil heart," they "went backward, and not forward" (Jeremiah 7:24).
Joseph A. Cannon is editor of the Deseret News.