Faith and Creativity

What is the scope and potential of creativity coming from a heart of faith? Some people will look at the term “Christian creativity” as an oxymoron. That is, these two words do not go together.

Some who think this way are professing Christians, or “religious” people, with the conviction that whatever is new is ungodly, or that we should be creating “inside the box”. Others are unbelievers, certain that Christians and people of faith in general are incapable of creating anything really new or worthwhile. They’re both very wrong.

Tolkien and C.S. Lewis both created from a background of Christian faith, and discussed together how they might express their faith in creative literature: you can’t get any better than their popular works. Tolkien believed that our ability to create is an important part of God’s own creation (1). J.S Bach was one of the greatest composers of classical music, and set about to glorify God in what he created (2). Without doubt he achieved his intention. Some artists have expressed their Christian faith and love for God and his creation through their paintings. Van Gogh springs to mind here, and if you doubt that he was a believer and lover of the Christian God, you can read my article, “Vincent Van Gogh, God and Me” (3).

The truth is that God, being the creator of all things, has shown his aesthetic sense and abilities to the point that we’re unable to comprehend or to put into words just how amazing and beautiful He and His Creation are, which is not surprising considering his infinite nature. And the pinnacle of His creation-mankind (I mean to include women, of course) has been created “in his image” (Genesis 1:27).

God, being a creator, has created man with the ability to dream, to plan, to make and to create. I’m not agreeing here with the ridiculous and sometimes blaphemous claims of some preachers and teachers, that our words are as powerful as God’s. They are not and never will be. We aren’t able to control the physical world by the power of our own words as He is. However, we do have something of his creative power, as can be seen all around us.

The One World Trade Center, Image by Praneeth Thela

Creativity can be expressed not only in music and literary and visual arts, but in architecture, building, farming, business, technology, government, and a myriad other ways. Secularists are certainly creative, but it isn’t because there’s any power in ignoring God and having secularized thinking: it’s because God in his mercy and love has given all of us-believer and unbeliever alike-the ability and will to create. It’s part of the limited nature of man.

What do we do with that creative power? That’s the important question. Ultimately the purpose of our creative talents and gifts is to glorify the incomparably amazing being who made us. Life is about glorifying God, and enjoying intimacy with Him. That’s what life is for: that’s the meaning of life. How we express our talents and gifts, and the condition of our hearts, determines whether what we do glorifies God or ourselves, and whether we are truly creative or destructive. The creativity of people who have separated themselves from God will be empty. If we create for the good of our fellow humans, we are still glorifying God.

An Ore Crushing Machine

Creativity can be indirect in this regard. I’ll try to explain what I mean. Look at the nearest flower or tree. Look as closely as you like. Look at it under a miscroscope if you want. Do you see any words on it? Do you see “Manufactured by the only true God. Copyright 0000 by God”? Do you see any verbal expression? No, you don’t, but you see beauty, and you see design, and you see purpose. What you see is a reflection of who the Designer is. That’s why if you refuse to see the Designer in the design, you are “without excuse” when it comes to the Day on which all our works will be weighed up:

“… since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).

The fact that there’s no written expression on any of God’s book of Nature is a clue to the potential of our own creativity. Those professing believers who think that God is only glorified when that which is created speaks directly of Him and of His son are wrong. Please don’t misunderstand: I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that as Jesus said, we should feed on Him daily and on His word. But think how Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” has the power to glorify God, even though the title “God” and the name “Jesus Christ” are not mentioned once in the book. Tolkien’s works speak of good and evil, and the will to do good for our fellow man. Bach’s works were often instrumental: they had no words direcly speaking of God or of his ways, but glorify God they did.

JRR Tolkien

What I’m getting at is that we believers have far more freedom to create than we think we do. When I see a Christian movie on TV I usually see something limited by the determination to create a message along tram lines of ideas: a scripted effort to fit the cliches, to be “preachy” and give a lesson, and to fit the generally accepted method and message of communication. In contrast all the best creators of our time and of the past make a point of getting off that beaten, predictable track.

Secular artists, film-makers and musicians are usually the most creative because they feel the freedom and self-security to roam in their thinking. They aren’t shackled by propriety and the need to say things a certain way and in a certain style. Far too often the Christian world is behind the secular world in creativity because we’re afraid to be free; we’re afraid to learn from the best who may not produce cliches; we’re afraid to let go and just have fun, and because the producers and financers of Christian works want to be sure of a good return.

Christ has made us free-not so that we can fit a mould or tick all the boxes, but so that we can use our God-given ability and imagination to the full, to glorify Him. So long as our motives are right, the more imaginitive we are, the more we will glorify God and His works.

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