As a child I loved to create things. That’s why I pursued a visual arts degree in college.
So there I sat in my first sculpture class, in a room filled with tools, pieces of metal, and wooden sculptures in progress. As we waited for our professor to arrive, I eyed a chisel and hammer on the wall. I was ready to carve some marble! Then the professor marched into the room. He raised two weathered hands in the air like President Nixon and said, “If you really want to be creative, get yourself a degree in genetics.”
Wait a minute, we all wondered, was he serious? His intense scowl showed no signs of softening. He wanted us to think hard about his words, to think beyond our desire to take a chisel to some marble and watch the dust fly.
My professor’s first objective was that we have a good reason to wield that chisel. He wanted us to be serious about creativity. How did we know that we wanted to be creative? Where does our creativity come from?
Have you ever looked at the bold lines and colors of children’s drawings or heard a child playing her own abstract song on a piano? It’s a marvelous thing to enjoy. Have you heard a kindergartner read his first story? It’s full of imagination and ingenuity. Our lives start out uniquely creative and contagiously expressive. We can’t help but live out God’s image of creativity. It bursts forth from inside.
We are born with an appreciation and desire to participate in creating the world around us—the sights, sounds, textures, and smells that give us delight. When we get older we still experience this internal urge. People say, “I wish I could play an instrument, make something beautiful, or write a story.” We long to be creative because we are especially designed that way by a Maker whose creativity has no end.
God’s creativity in us is a divine quality. It makes us unique creatures on Earth. We witness the imagination of God bursting forth in phosphorescent deep-sea creatures and microscopic amoeba. Exotic orchids and ant colonies tell of the attention God invests in detailed craftsmanship. The complexity of the human body dumbfounds us. The more we see God’s imagination in creation, the more we become aware that we are especially designed to appreciate it. The better we understand how God chiseled and hammered the world around us, the more we feel called to participate in it.
A Gift for All
When we are creative we reflect God’s special purpose for us in his beautiful creation. But our experiences along the journey to adulthood often hold us back from exploring our original desires. We say as adults, “Someday . . .” or, “It will have to wait for heaven.” This happens when we let culture decide who we are and how we spend our time. One moment it says “Color inside the lines”; another moment it defines creativity as coloring outside the lines.
Western culture says we can’t be productive unless we fit the mold or inspired unless we break the mold. When we reach adulthood we become disillusioned about creativity. We compare ourselves to others and say, “I’m not very creative”—and we believe it! But God’s definition of creativity is very different. Our imagination and craftsmanship are called to fit into God’s definition and purpose for our lives.
In the Old Testament, God defines creativity as a community project. In Exodus 35-39 God commands the Israelites to build the tabernacle and craft all its elements. God calls the entire community to the task. Israel responds with the supplies needed and with men and women skilled in weaving and building. God asks Israel to build this tent so God’s presence may dwell with them. What a wonderful picture of God’s people working with the goal of honoring him.
This scene describes God’s wish for his people today too. God values ingenuity and craftsmanship working in harmony. God values the unity we feel as we teach each other the skills necessary to complete a project. The objective of this “classroom” is life-giving, restorative communion with God and one another.
Beyond Chisels and Paintbrushes
My sculpture professor’s words, “If you really want to be creative, get yourself a degree in genetics,” taught me that creativity goes beyond chisels, hammers, and paintbrushes. Creativity is found in knitting needles, model-airplane building, and farming techniques. It can be found in test tubes and equations; the sciences offer limitless opportunities for expression and growth.
The apostle Paul encourages us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). God values anything we create that honors him.
A friend of mine took care of his wife over a long period of illness. She died recently, and that was a difficult loss for him. During his time of grief, he returned to an old hobby. He showed me his beautiful wire-constructed Ming trees. He found great pleasure and joy in creating these new works of art. Then he went to church and taught a group of kids how to construct them. There he was, engaging the youths and sharing his creativity. It was marvelous to see God working in him.
I visited him a few weeks later and found him giving his trees as gifts. His desire to create gave him a purpose and healing in his time of loss. The young kids finished their wire trees and gave them as gifts to their parents. I have one sitting in my office; it’s a great reminder. Who would have thought that a pair of pliers, some wire, and glue could have so many creative benefits? That is how God works.
God does not limit creativity to a small group of gifted artists. He gives it to everyone in different ways. Some people have a creative talent to cook, tend a garden, or make an engine run beyond its years. Others use visuals to inspire new ways of thinking, or use words to speak straight to the heart of God’s love. Every creative act reflects God’s image in us and glorifies God’s presence in our lives.
Take the time to create whatever it is you like. Play music, put together a puzzle with a friend, knit a prayer shawl and teach others how. Let your creativity flow from the Creator God within!