We’re arguing about where creativity originates. It’s not a new discussion; as a writer and an artist, we have plenty of cause to ponder the inescapably ephemeral quality of our ideas. Why are we creating? Or, to borrow words from Amanda Auler’s debut fantasy novel Daughter of the Sun, which I recently finished: “Why waste your life doing something that couldn’t keep someone from dying of hunger or cold?”
In our case, an understanding of this phenomenon begins with our belief in the God of the Bible.
More than just an understanding that there’s a higher power, we believe in the God who is himself incredibly creative, who uses creativity to express himself to us, and through whom we are able to not only find our true purpose, but find purpose for storytelling, art, and beauty that would otherwise find their ultimate meaning in our fleeting and underwhelming selves.
So, God is why creativity exists. God is the reason I write. But looking at that premise more closely, we’re faced with some problems. Particularly, we stick on the how.
How Now, Brown Cow?
God is responsible, yes, but how is he a part of our creative efforts?
And how is he a part of the creative efforts of those who directly oppose his rule?
Some of the best stories I’ve ever read came from people who hated the thought that God, an ultimate authority who defines the reality of morality in a way that contradicts their own definition, would dare to not only exist but to direct and determine our everyday lives.
If creativity is a gift – and my husband assures me, as our voices grow heated and the room gets too small, that he thinks it’s a spiritual gift akin to prophecy or speaking in tongues, which elicits a vehement response from my slightly-anti-charismatic self – how is it given to people regardless of religious beliefs?
My Answer to Creativity's Origins
I’ve settled on a solution that brings me resolution, and it’s the one I propose today, but it’s probably incorrect. I’ve not been known to be right too often in my life; more likely than not, someone will correct me and completely change my understanding.
But that’s what a conversation should be. I expound rationally upon my premise, and then you spend the rest of the afternoon doing your best to prove me wrong using your own logical faculties.
We should do that with politics.
We should do that with ethical conundrums.
And certainly, we should have rational, logical, calm discussions about religion.
My husband and I were not necessarily modeling that calmness in our conversation about creativity, but we’re both overly-passionate about what we think and can usually find ways to make it up to one another later, so we’ll call that scenario an anomaly.
Now, the Actual Answer:
My solution is this: Creativity comes from God, who in most* cases uses mundane means to inspire and challenge our hearts and minds to create beauty.
An Anecdote, As Expected
This solution reminds me of a conversation in my Creative Writing workshop class about zeitgeists and open-mindedness. I’ll synthesize the heart of the conversation in a metaphor:
We are webs, all of us, catching the bits of our world that keep our attention. And when we’ve caught all the pieces required for an idea to unravel, it does in an instant, in a flash of inspiration that lights the web on fire with purpose, until every random thread is humming with its connectivity to the next piece of the puzzle.
Our conversation didn’t sound much like that, but that’s how I think of it. Creativity, then, or the origin of it, comes from listening and watching the world around you until you have enough data to create an amalgamation that pleases and entertains.
That moment – when the web is complete and your idea is born – has been attributed to muses, to genius, to divine inspiration. (Don't get me or Dedrick started about "genius".)
I attribute it to God, yes, but with the important distinction that in no way do I believe God spoke directly to me to inspire an idea.
If I believed that, I’d hold every random entry in my notes app as holy, and I don’t. My ideas are powerful, and I am thankful for them. But they are not sacred.
The Sacred Using the Mundane
In my theory, God is the one who influences your observation. He placed me at my college during a time when a local cult had grown more active and, as I was taking a young adult literature class, provided the events and details of life around me necessary for me to conceptualize my little cult novel, which I still think is the best work I’ve written to date.
I am still responsible for my level of awareness, my observation skills, and my ability to execute ideas with craft and style appropriate to their potential.
But it’s a divine hand that shapes the world where we find ourselves searching for stories.
More Than Just Me
And that’s not an exclusive truth to Christians. The same God who uses dictators and donkeys to connect to his people surely also uses those who hate his name to reveal truths and powerful stories that bring Christians closer to him.
Even in the Bible, there are direct quotations from Greek philosophers and poets of the day who directly opposed the concept of monotheism. Those writers, even if everything else they wrote is nonsensical gibberish used as filler texts in English classrooms when a professor’s too tired to pick a new book, were inspired by God to write a phrase or two that the Apostle Paul was then able to directly use to share the good news.
Did Aratus believe that all men are born sinners, separate from God’s holiness, and the only way they’re made right is through trusting in the sacrifice of God’s only son, who paid the penalty for man’s sin by condescending into Roman-occupied Israel and dying on a cross, then rising from the dead to remain an advocate for his people at God’s right hand? Absolutely not. He was a Stoic. More or less, he believed knowledge led to enlightenment. The idea that man’s ultimate salvation was based on an entity outside oneself would have been abhorrent to Aratus.
How are modern writers different from these Greek writers? God is good, and he not only gives the just and the unjust rain, air, and an excess of fast food burger options, but he also gives us all the opportunity to create.
We, as humans, long to follow in our Father’s footsteps and bring this world back to beauty and away from depravity, sickness, and death.
Creativity is a weapon God gives us to fight back against the inane lie that our world is only meant for a few shallow breaths and then an undergrowth of rotting corpses. We are more because we are made in his image.
However we choose to use that creative gift as image-bearers, I am convinced that God is shaping the just and the unjust into storytellers who will, either willingly or accidentally, shout his name into the braying and broken world.
*Dedrick thinks divine influence is more direct in some creative circumstances, which is why I added the “most” to my premise; marriage is about nothing if not compromise. I disagree with him, but that’s a conversation for another time.