Creativity in the Bible, part 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2 Go to part 1

The Sacramentalist View

Creating the way God Creates

The plethora of definitions of creativity in our society are so loose, yet so embedded in popular culture, that the exclusive, pristine use of the term as found in Scripture is for the foreseeable future, irrecoverable. Given this widespread useage, is there any warrant for the application of the word “creativity” to human agency?

Fully acknowledging the Reformed theologian’s warnings against a “heaven storming” creativity, I now to set forth Dorthy L. Sayer’s ideas on creativity where mankind is viewed as a small “c” creator or “sub-creator” (Tolkein’s expression). Her views conflict with the Reformed theologians and philosophers (i.e., Kuyper, Seerveld, Wolterstorff) but are representative of the Sacramentalist stream (Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans) who see artistic endeavor more as “creation” than “work.” Crucial components in her view are:

  • 1. a reliance on analogical thinking;
    2. emphasis on man created in the image of God (“imago deo”);
    3. the linking of an incarnational view of art with Hebrews 1:3;
    4. the concept of the Trinity as the ideal image of the human creative mind.

Her major contribution is to draw on theology for her ideas on creativity, and to relate the human creative process in particular to a theological framework.

One reason why the Reformed and Sacramentalist streams are opposed stems from their differing evaluation of analogical language. Kuyper, a Reformed theologian, distrusts analogical, symbolic, or metaphorical thinking: “the more Religion develops itself in spiritual maturity, the more it will extricate itself from art’s bandages because art always remains incapable of expressing the very essence of Religion.” Sayers, in contrast, begins with the premise of analogy: “All language about God must, as St Thomas Acquinas pointed out, necessarily be analogical.”

Sayer’s writings suggest four analogies (or metaphors) which comprise part of the identity mankind shares with God: the father analogy (God as Father, man as father); the creator analogy (Creator, creator); the maker analogy (Maker, maker); and the trinity of the creative mind analogy (Trinity, trinity). Of the four metaphors, she feels the Creator metaphor has been neglected partly because the Father metaphor has been “particularly consecrated by Christ’s use of it,” and partly because most of us “have a very narrow experience of the art of creation.”

She speaks of the deficiencies in understanding that arise when theologians/pastors and artists do not engage in integrative dialogue. Specifically, theologians fail to recognize the “likeness and familiarity between God and His children” in the Creator-creator metaphor. They use this analogy, “to illustrate the gulf between God and His creatures,” neglecting to inquire what light the artist can throw on it. But if the Creator analogy, like the Father analogy, is rooted in human experience, then “it is to the creative artists that we should naturally turn.”

Sayers, while acknowledging the differences, underscores the commonality between God and man in the Maker/maker metaphor:

We are well aware that man cannot create in the absolute sense…We use the word “create” to convey an extension and amplification of something we do know, and we limit the application of the metaphor precisely as we limit the metaphor of fatherhood. We know a father and picture to ourselves an ideal Father; similarly, we know a human “maker” and picture to ourselves an ideal “Maker.”

Created in the Image of God

And God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him…(Gen 1:26-28)

This Maker/maker analogy, affirms Sayers, is located in the concept of man created in image of God (the “imago deo”). Scripture does not specifically say what comprises the imago deo, rather the immediate context of Scripture in Genesis one leads to the conclusion that God “created” (Gen. 1:1); therefore mankind is fundamentally a maker. That is what the Genesis one is about and that is what the imago deo is about:

How then can he [man] be said to resemble God?….when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created.” The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire to make things.

Incarnational Art

She also rejects theories that art is a “copy,” an “imitation,” or a “representation” of forms. She believes in an Incarnational approach to the arts (poetry, music, fine arts, etc.), citing that Christ enfleshed was not an inferior imitation but a mirror image of God:

Suppose having rejected the words “copy,” “imitation,” and “representation” as inadequate, we substitute the word “image and say that what the artist is doing is to image forth something or other, and connect that with St. Paul’s phrase: “God…hath spoke to us by His son, the brightness of his glory and express image of his person.” (Heb. 1:3)The Christian revelation set free all the images, by showing that the true Image subsisted within the Godhead Itself–it was neither copy, nor imitation, nor representation, nor inferior, nor subsequent, but the brightness of the glory, and the express image of his Person–the very mirror in which reality knows itself and communicates itself in power.

May I interject here? The words translated “express image” above (Gr. “charakter”), are translated as “exact representation” in the NIV and NASB versions. We find, however, the word “image” (Gr. “eikon”) used elsewhere in reference to Christ, which corroborates the thrust of her argument. For example:

“Christ, who is in the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4)
“He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God…” (Col.1:15)
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…”(Rom. 8:29 NASB)

My study suggests that the words “image” and “imitate” are employed differently in Scripture. The word “imitate” is used by Paul and the writer of Hebrews in reference to behavior modification:

“I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.” (I Cor. 4:16, NASB)
“Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ… (I Cor. 11:1, NASB)
“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord… (I Thess. 1:6 NASB)
“And we desire that each one of you… [be] imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:11-12 NASB)

In other words, the word “image” in Biblical useage, seems to be used more in relation to communication processes. The word “imitate” is used for behavior modification, as when a son watches his father and learns by doing what he does, or when a student copies a particular musical or sermonic style, or performs the way his teacher does. Stravinsky sums this up well:
“the object of music is not and cannot be imitation,” but “imitation is in itself something useful and even indispensable to beginners who train themselves by studying models.” The mature artists, however, have an idea and then use the materials available to “image,” embody, or flesh out their intent. In that sense art is incarnational, just as Christ is God incarnate.

The Trinity and the Human Creative Process

Sayers further believes the concept of the Trinity suggests a model for the human creative process. Though the Trinity enjoys a reputation for “obscurity and remoteness from experience,” a Trinitarian structure in the Creative Mind of God parallels a Trinitarian structure familiar to the creative mind of the human artist:

In the extraordinary set of formulae about the Trinity-in-unity…[there emerges] an artistic analogy…of the human artist at work–a picture exact to the minutest detail, familiar at every point, and corroborated in every feature by day-to-day experience.For every work [act or performance] of creation is threefold, an earthy trinity to match the heavenly.First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end from the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, where none can exist without the other; and this is the image of the Trinity.So the act of the poet in creation is seen to be a threefold trinity–experience [the Father], expression [the Son], and recognition [the Spirit].

To reiterate, for the writer the Idea is equated with having an “idea” for a book, or the book as thought; the Energy is the incarnation of that idea in words or the book as written; and the Power is the communication of the image in power or the book as read.

Instead of a book, the Trinitarian model could be applied to sermon making or music performance and composition. Her idea is certainly an intriguing application of a great and central theological doctrine, don’t you think? In fact, thinking of the Trinity this way assigns value to the concept, and brings what has been felt as an obscure and difficult concept, closer to our human experience. Positive! Denis de Rougement uses three verbs to evoke the same artistic functioning in the Trinity: “to create [Father], to incarnate [Son], to inspire [Holy Spirit].”

Sayers enlarges on the theological implications:

Theologically, the Word is said to be “equal to the Father as touching His Godhead and inferior to the Father as touching his manhood”–which may be translated into the language of our analogy: “Equal to the Idea as touching its essence and inferior to the Idea as touching its expression.” It is inferior, not only in the sense that it is limited by form as the Idea is not, but also in the sense that its form is creaturely and therefore subject to the Idea–“I do the will of My Father.”[Concerning the nature of creative mind] there is a difference only of technical phraseology, and between the mind of the maker and the Mind of his Maker, a difference, not of category, but only of quality and degree.

Bara Newness

Sayers insists the Biblical concept of creativity envisages the production of something new, a unique aspect of the Christian world view in contrast to the Greek world view:

The true work of art, then, is something new… neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. Something has been created.This word–this idea of Art as creation is, I believe, the one important contribution that Christianity has made to aesthetics. Unfortunately, we are apt to use the words “creation” and “creativeness” very vaguely and loosely, because we do not relate them properly to our theology. But it is significant that the Greeks had not this word in their aesthetic at all. They looked on a work of art as a kind of techne, a manufacture. Neither, for that matter was the word in their theology.

A study of the eighty-six occurrences of the word “create’ in Scripture supports Sayers contention does that newness centrally characterizes creativity. In eight instances the word “new” occurs in immediate conjunction with the word “bara”. Furthermore “new” (chadash), like the word bara, is used sparingly in reference to significant events.

What kind of newness is involved? How can it be described? What are its features, its criteria? A study of the context of in which “create” occurs indicates at least five features that characterize bara newness.

  • 1. Bara newness is unprecedented (Isa. 43:15-21)–the first of its kind, that which did not exist before, that which is irreducible to something known, the unheard of.
    2. Bara newness is humanly unforeseeable (Num. 16:30). It has the quality of surprise, of hiddenness brought to light–the quality of the unexpected and unpredictable.
    3. Bara newness is valuable (Gen 29: Isa 41:17-20). It cannot be novelty for novelty’s sake. It must solve a problem, serve a function, be workable, yet beautiful, fitting, elegant.
    4. Bara newness is transformational in that it can become part of tradition and undergo transformation, re-creation (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:15).
    5. Bara newness is lasting. It does not lose it luster after repeated examination and contemplation. This is a newness that never perishes.

Practically, these criteria can guide human endeavor, help us recognize when we onto something significant. Feature three is particularly useful in avoiding unproductive forays. I find myself thinking of these criteria often as I pursue my own work!

Grounds for the Human-Divine Interface

Is it possible, then, that the Bible envisions a creative capacity in man that is a reflection of God’s activity, even though bara is used exclusively for God? Sayers has answered “Yes.” Sayers would locate the creative urge in man in the imago deo, and would see analogies in the Maker/maker, Trinity/trinity correspondences.

Is there other support for her view? Other grounds for considering a human-divine interface include (1) man’s naming of the creatures, (2) the Psalm eight passage, and the concepts of (3) “newness” and (4) “wisdom.” Wilkinson points out that God allows Adam to share in the activity of Genesis creation: He brings the animals before Adam and waits “to see what he would name them” (Gen. 1:19). Wilkinson says,

“To name a thing is not only to exert power over it, it is also to recognize its true nature–even to shape and release that true nature, to direct it into what it could not become without the namer. We see God often naming people in this way. Abram, for example, becomes Abraham, and so reveals his destiny as father of a multitude…[Adam’s naming] is a kind of creative power, over creation, by words. In it, God invites man to participate with him in shaping the world.”

In Psalm eight, written after the Fall, a close linkage is forged between man and God:

Yet Thou hast made him [man] a little lower than God [Elohim], and dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou does make him to rule over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet. (Ps. 8: NASB)

And Romans suggests that man has a cooperative role to play in “reconciling” creation:

…the anxious longing of creation awaits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God…that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery… (Rom. 8: 19-21 NASB)

Moreover, God creates by exercising wisdom, and man is enjoined to get wisdom:

But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding [Jer10:12]How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. [Ps104:24]Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding…
By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place; [Prov 3:13,19]

Please do not misunderstand! Nowhere would Sayers nor does any Scripture teach that man is God or a god! Rather, the suggestion is that there is correspondence.

The Reformed & Sacramentalist Contribution

Let’s review for a moment what the Reformed and Sacramentalist exponents have each contributed to our understanding of Biblical creativity. The Reformed exponents have emphasized a respect for the materials of creation, given dignity to the concept of man as a worker, clarified and extended the meaning of the creation mandate, and have provided a healthy caution to the dangerous concept of a “heaven storming” creativity. The Sacramentalists have contributed the idea of art as incarnational, and have related the process of creativity to theology–given artistic process some theological underpinning in the concept of the Trinity. Both are valuable.