Over the summer I enjoyed reading The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers. It’s a fascinating book, not least for the insights Sayers gives into the creative process she experienced as she wrote her novels.
Sayers combines her creative experience with the startling statement in Genesis 1 that humanity was created in God’s image to then talk about how human creativity reflects God himself. It’s a famously enigmatic phrase isn’t it?! Theologians and others have discussed its precise meaning for centuries without really reaching a consensus. Perhaps that’s the point: humans represent and reflect God in so many different ways that it’s actually impossible to pin the concept down.
Sayers points out, though, that before Genesis 1:26, we do hear one undeniable truth about God loud and clear: “In the beginning God created…” (Gen 1:1). He’s The Creator.
Which means that in the thought-flow of Genesis, one of the many implications of humanity bearing the image of God is that we are creative because God is Creative.
For some of us that’s the most obvious statement in the world. “Of course we’re creative. I don’t know how to be anything else. If I didn’t create something, I would burst!”
Others of us, though, hear something like that and sigh. ‘Creativity’ just doesn’t really feel part of us. Have you ever had that experience of being asked by a child—perhaps your own, or a young relative—to draw something for them? So, you gulp, try to do your best da Vinci impression, and are met with the most disappointed pair of eyes imaginable and, “what’s that supposed to be?”
Maybe that’s just me, but it gets me thinking. If to be human is to be somehow creative, have we made our definition of what that actually means a little too narrow. What about those of us who aren’t quite so ‘creatively gifted’ in the classical sense? Do we reflect God’s creativity?
Well, think about God’s creativity for a moment. It’s astonishing. In just one chapter of Genesis God is depicted as the source of incredible beauty, the art of nature itself, music, even creatures themselves. Then he rested from his work (Gen 2: 3). But does that mean that he rested from creativity itself? Surely not. God is everything he is at full volume all the time. He never stops being who he is, so he never stops being gloriously and powerfully creative. So, what happens to his creativity once the work of creation is done?
He re-creates. We know the story. The world didn’t remain ‘very good.’ So, from Genesis 3 onwards God’s creativity goes to work on all the problems that our rebellion and sin produced.
This has a stunning implication. When creativity meets problems, it doesn’t just solve them. Ultimately, it forms something new. That’s what God’s creativity did for us. In all his powerful grace, God took the raw materials of our sin and rebellion, his broken creation, even our sinful selves, and formed something new. Or rather he is forming something new. The New Heavens and New Earth. The New Creation itself.
“If anyone is in Christ, the New Creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here.”
So, what might it mean to understand our creativity as a reflection of this?
In the final chapter of her book, Sayers reflects on our human lives as works of art. Even the least artistic of us are producing something astonishing as we live out our lives, do our work, form and deepen our relationships. This in itself is a wonderful insight for those who feel ‘less creative’ or even ‘non-creative.’ It turns out that my life is actually a canvas, and my ability to draw on it bears no relation to my inability to use a pencil or paintbrush!
And of course, a big part of our lives involves facing and overcoming problems.
We often think of our problems as the kind which vexed Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps knotty and difficult, but always (and pretty much without fail) solvable on their own terms, with no messy loose ends and always within their own parameters. It feels like life would be neater that way, and certainly a whole lot less complicated. When we do face problems like that the satisfaction found in meeting them with cool analysis and seeing them solved is fantastic. That’s why I love Sherlock Holmes!
But most of the problems we face, individually and corporately, aren’t really like that. They’re much more complex, with more layers and more interconnections than it first appears. On a personal level, we may struggle in one relationship and find our thought and heart patterns in completely different areas, even in other relationships that seem to be going well, exert a huge influence on that one. On a broader level, we could look at societal injustice, unemployment, crime rates, family breakdown and quickly see that none of them are isolated, and each has almost overwhelming levels of complexity.
These problems require creativity. We do not simply analyse them, solve them, and tie everything in a neat bow. We’re forced to face up to a whole load of different factors and work through them to form something new.
The trouble comes when we mistake the second sort for the first. Sayers was writing in 1940/41. She lived in a world wracked with some of the deepest problems humanity have ever faced. Tellingly, her diagnosis of the preceding two decades was that “we looked at peace and security as a problem to be solved, not a work to be made.”
In other words, the deep and complex problems that led to and followed the First World War were, in Sayers’ opinion, largely met with an analytical problem-solving approach wholly inadequate for their resolution.
We could look at the problems of today in the same light. On an immediate level, individuals and churches across the world are continuing to wrestle with the difficulties of restarting in-person meetings in a new reality of social distancing and mask-wearing, all within the context of a huge range of emotional and rational responses. At my church we have seen the whole spectrum, from those who think we’re borderline irresponsible to meet in person again, to those who question why we ever stopped in the first place.
What do we do with these problems? We could analyse and try to problem-solve. We might make some headway, but we would inevitably miss nuances and complexities, and worst of all, we would probably miss particular people.
Instead, we’re invited to take the way of image-bearing. What if the problems we’re facing are raw materials for re-creation, an opportunity for holy creativity? With godly imagination and care, we can take a redemptive path, and gently form something new, for the glory of God and the good of his people.
After all, that is the path God takes us on, to glory.