Shuck and Jive

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Faith Essentials: Creativity

(Welcome to Conversations with Bob! If we were a TV show, we would win an Emmy--or at least look darn snappy at the awards show!)

Bob and I are discussing faith essentials. I have suggested that gratitude, awe, and compassion are faith essentials. I will add another today, creativity.

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...'

So what does it mean to be created in the image of God? Many things have been proposed to lift up a certain quality of humankind as a divine reflection. Perhaps our capacity to love, reason, make moral choices, be conscious of ourselves, and even create and destroy are mirror images of the Divine.

I am not concerned at this point about interpreting that text or that phrase as much as I am curious about the human capacity to create and destroy. Matthew Fox considers creativity as one of the four spiritual paths along with awe, letting go, and transformation.

No one can deny that humankind is a creative bunch. We have created religion, writing, cathedrals, mobile homes, and race cars. We have created rocket ships and hearing aids, the Mona Lisa and prison cells, nuclear missiles and water purifiers.

We have domesticated animals (is that not creative?), genetically engineered tomatoes, irrigated deserts, and blown glass. Apple cider and Agent Orange are the fruits of our creativity. We have created sonnets and submarines, dictatorships and democracy, television and teletubbies.

No wonder YHWH despaired from the heavens:

‘...this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.'

We even created the gods (or at least names and tales for them) who in turn create us. We are creative. Let's admit it. We have creative power at our disposal. Perhaps it was the evolution of creativity and opposable thumbs that turned us into the top chimps on Earth (at least for awhile). Creativity is the essence of humanity. Since creativity is a product of evolution, we could also think of it as the essence of evolution. Is it the essence of faith?

I suggest that the best meaning of faith is trust. I trust my physician to give the best advice and care. I have faith in her. Do we trust in our creativity? I say yes. Why?

We have no choice. We are creative and will not stop being creative for good or ill. It is not good for us to deny our creative power or to project creativity onto God and leave it there. To do so is to hand over our responsibility. Creativity is, from a theological point of view, an aspect of the divine image. It is therefore a gift. It is a gift to be cherished, nurtured, celebrated, made sacred, and (dare I say?) harnessed, for good.

Creativity and the harness do not seem to go together. Which is why I chose that image. With creativity comes responsibility. I trust in the creativity of humankind, which is the creativity of the Universe, which is the reflection of the Divine image. But it is not the only reflection.

As Bob said, the essentials of faith are not in isolation but weave to form a quilt. Creativity threads its way with awe, gratitude, and compassion. There are more threads as well.


  1. John, I like a lot of what you say here. I'd like to comment, though, that the project you're undertaking seems different from the one Bob is undertaking (not just in content but in kind).

    It seems as if the essentials you're pointing to are much more in line with "faithfulness" rather than "faith." At least in the way that it's being used by Bob as the theological/doctrinal commitments that drive faithful action. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, here...

  2. I really like your comments on this subject. I really agree with you on the importance of creativity as a divine attribute, and as a human attribute. Divine creativity has been at work for the last 14 billion years, evoking the universe to its present state through continual acts of novelty, and those 14 billion years worth of creative processes led to us, conscious creatures who in turn now have the ability to be self-consciously creative ourselves. My guess is that God thinks it was well worth the wait.

  3. "My guess is that God thinks it was well worth the wait."

    Yes, absolutely! Thanks, Seeker.

  4. mystical

    I doubt you mean this but I'm going to comment on it anyway. You said:

    and those 14 billion years worth of creative processes led to us, conscious creatures who in turn now have the ability to be self-consciously creative ourselves. My guess is that God thinks it was well worth the wait.

    I hope you don't mean that we humans are the purpose, the end point of evolution. Certainly God directed evolution to produce self consciousness and creativity in humans. I'm just not sure, speaking as a skeptic, that we should consider ourselves the pinnacle or purpose of evolution. Who knows what God may ultimately do?

  5. In response to what Chris said, I think John is doing it intentionally to wind both Bob and me up! ;-)

  6. Bob,

    No, I don't think that we as a species are specifically are the purpose or end point of evolution. I do think that the rise of self-conscious creatures in the universe (and there may be other self-consciously intelligent species besides us out there) represented a greater development from God's perspective, from, say unconscious barren rocks. I do believe that the development of consciousness was something that God wanted to see evoked into being through those evolutionary processes. Not us humans specifically, maybe, but consciousness in general, which allowed for greater experience and reflection by those parts of the universe that were capable of it.

  7. Personally, I find the story of man's ascent from seaweed to the lordship of earthly creation is indeed a romance of biologic struggle and mind survival. How amazing to consider man's primordial ancestors were literally the slime and ooze of the ocean bed in the sluggish and warm-water bays and lagoons of the vast shore lines of the ancient inland seas. I don’t find it to hard to believe that in those very waters God established life and used evolution as the technique by which to evolve self conscious sons and daughters of God. It seems philosophically plausible that if there is a personal God, who is our Creator, that the myriads of planetary systems that we are only now beginning to discover were all made to eventually be inhabited by many different types of intelligent evolutionary creatures, beings who could know God, receive the divine affection, and love him in return. Are we not told in the scriptures, "I have made the earth and put man upon it. I have created it not in vain; I formed it to be inhabited." (Isa.45.12, 18) Can we not envision a God who could be the Creator of myriads of evolving creatures upon countless evolutionary worlds other than our own? That certainly lends new meaning to Jesus’ words, “I have many other sheep not of this fold.” (Jn.10.16) The Shin Buddhists view the spiritual purpose of time and space, the universe, as one big Buddha-making factory! Why is it so different if one believes that we are the children of God and that evolution is the technique by which God creates evolutionary sons and daughters of God?

    And how fortunate we are to begin at the very bottom! If God is our Creator he certainly could have chosen to make us perfect beings by divine fiat, but that would have deprived us of the thrill of seeking God by faith, and finding him in our own personal experience, and the wonderful experience and adventure of learning to do his will, to conquer our self-centered animal nature, by living faith and love, and learning to be led and taught by the Spirit. Is this not the heart of Jesus commandment, “Be you perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect”? And while our spiritual growth is freely mixed with elements of grace, nevertheless, we must make choices—decisions—and when we attain the perfection from “glory to glory” that the Father and Son have promised us, we will have achieved it wholly as an experiential acquirement, a bona fide personality possession, the attainments of individual effort and actual living of “not my will but God’s will be done.” I find the following inspiring, when I read “When the heights of perfection and eternity are attained, all the more honor to those who began at the bottom and joyfully climbed the ladder of life, round by round, and who, when they do reach the heights of glory, will have gained a personal experience which embodies an actual knowledge of every phase of life from the bottom to the top.”

    We may not know what future biological evolution holds for those mortals upon this planet, but we do know that we have been promised on resurrection morning a new form:

    “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2.Cor.3.18) “There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.” (1.Cor.15.40) “But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.” (2.Cor.3.54)

    And then we shall all sing together on resurrection morning, “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”

  8. Another cool thing about the emergence of self-conscious, thinking creatures like humans, is that not only does God now have the ability to relate to and share in the experiences of contemplative creatures, but also those creatures can act as co-creators with God in ways that weren't possible when the universe was barren and devoid of such beings.

  9. “Not only does God have the ability to relate to and share in the experiences of contemplative creatures, but also those creatures can act as co-creators with God in ways that weren’t possible when the universe was barren and devoid of such beings.”

    I really like the faith-insight that Mystical Seeker expresses in the above statement. It reminds me of the following statements:

    What a magnificent adventure; the God who created and endowed us with self-conscious creative free will, would actually befriend us and go into partnership with us by means of his own spirit.

    Another creative mind wrote: “That which the enlightened and reflective human imagination of spiritual teaching and leading wholeheartedly and unselfishly wants to do and be, becomes measurably creative in accordance with the degree of mortal dedication to the divine doing of the Father's will. When man goes in partnership with God, great things may, and do, happen.”