When thinking from a theological perspective about what it means to be creative, I have found that creativity does not fit in just one theological category. It simply cannot be boxed up like that. But rather, creativity spans across multiple sub-categories of theology. In this blog post I’m going to try to paint a quick picture of how we can look at creativity from a theological perspective by examining three of those sub-categories: Theology-Proper (the study of God, himself), Anthropology (the study of man) and Ecclesiology (the study of the Church).
God as Creator
From the Christian perspective God is the ultimate example of creativity because He created everything in existence. There is not anything that exists that was not created by Him. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The Hebrew text of Genesis 1 describes this beginning state before creation as void. In theology we have a term for God’s creative action at this moment before anything existed… Ex Nihilo. It’s Latin, meaning “from nothing.” When we talk about “nothing” it is more than just some dark, empty space. In order for something to be empty there has to be space that can be filled. But in the beginning there was no space because there was not anything to occupy it. Likewise there was no dark because there was not yet such a thing as light. Darkness is the absence of light. If light has yet to exist, then dark also does not exist. In fact, darkness and light were both created together by God in Genesis 1. There was no silence because there had yet to be any sound. There was no time because no two distinct temporal occurrences had yet to occur. In fact there hadn’t even been a first occurrence, let alone a second. Everything by which we objectively measure our current reality had yet to exist. It is no wonder we have such a hard time conceptualizing nothingness. Everything that we understand had yet to be: the physical, the abstract, even the metaphysical. The abstract concepts by which we understand anything, had not yet come into existence! The single thing that existed was God, himself.
And from nothing a voice came forth creating for the first time both sound and silence. And from that voice came the energy that now composes all forms of both matter and energy as we know it. Light and darkness. Time and Space. From that voice came all that is physical, abstract and metaphysical. Nothing we can remotely conceive of in our very existence was until it sprang forth from the mind of God. In one instance there was only God, and then nothing became everything.
Think how enormously creative the mind of God is. Everything by which we live and breathe came from his mind: physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, hydrology. Even the abstract: love, joy, beauty. And don’t forget the metaphysical: existence, self-awareness, the ability to learn, identity. The grand masterwork of creativity is enormously complex, intricate and beautiful. Existence itself is God’s work of art! This is the very essence of creativity; God thought of something, and he made it. He made His ideas into an actual reality.
Man as Creative
Part of God’s creative work was that He made man in His own image. This is what sets humanity apart from the rest of the created order. Among other things, it includes our ability for rational thought as well as our own ability to create. Our creativity mirrors, albeit on a smaller scale, God’s own creativity. God creates ex nihilo; man creates from the substances that God has created. God creates ideas that have never been thought of before; man creates by synthesizing from and adding to previous ideas. We take what is around us, learn from it, and turn it into something new. That creative process is tied up into our identity as human beings.
For the Christian, our creativity is an act of worship. It is not as simple as singing a worship song or painting a picture to put in the church vestibule. That is an over simplified concept of worship. Worship is that act by which we are bringing lives into sync with God’s great story. Every aspect of our lives are brought in line with God’s standards, including how we express our creativity. The Christian worships by pursuing excellence in his creative endeavors. Like in the parable of the talents, our actual abilities are to be developed for God. The excellence in our vocation and crafts, whatever they may be, point to God and reflect His own creativity. It is not excellence for the sake of being excellent, but rather to honor God. We readily acknowledge the God who gave us talents and abilities as the source of our own creativity. We also worship God with our creativity by living a virtuous life. Since our creativity is a part of our life, we will use our creative abilities to love both God and neighbor as a natural byproduct of pursuing the virtuous life.
In contrast, we can also use our creativity in negative ways. This is a brief overlap into hamartiology, the study of sin. When we use our creativity selfishly then we do what is wrong. We commit sin. We cease to honor God or our neighbor with our creativity but set ourselves up as the most important thing. That is, by focusing our creativity on ourselves we set ourselves up as our own god. We also do wrong with our creativity when we set it up as the most important thing in our lives. In essence, creativity for creativity’s sake. At this point it has replaced both God, our neighbors and even ourselves as the most important thing in our lives. It has become a god unto us. We, the creators, become dominated by our own creativity. Rather than using it as a skill or an ability, we become enamored by it and enslaved to the idea of being creative. When our own creativity dethrones God as the central point of our life, we have made a grave mistake.
Church of Unique Individuals
So far we have seen creativity in God as Creator as well as in man as a creative being made in the image of God. The Church is made up of individuals all made in the image of God. Not only that but the church is made up of unique individuals who are all uniquely creative. But how are we to relate to one another as unique creative individuals?
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-25 Paul describes the church as a body. Each individual functions as a “member” of that body. Some people are an “eye” and some people are an “ear.” These different parts of the body perform different vital functions. The body is not all eyes or all ears, but rather each part of the body is distinct and both needs and benefits from the others.
Like in Paul’s metaphor with organs in the body, we need those other people that are different from us. Each individual performs a different function in the Church body that is not only beneficial, but necessary to us all. That means that whatever it is that makes us uniquely creative is not only good, but essential for the church as a whole. As such we should encourage our brothers and sisters in the Church to use their creative talents for the benefit of the Church and the glory of God. We should not place demands on them to conform to our own expectations. Likewise we should not expect them to be like us or to express their creativity in the same way we do. However, we should disciple them to love and serve God. That way they will come to express their creativity in a way that is unique to them but also continues to point to the God that made them.
by James Pasley