The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He’s Creator. Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The first chapter of Genesis goes on to talk about God making the various parts of the cosmos, culminating in His making of human beings, “in the image of God”, and “male and female”.
While the ability to create ex nihilo, out of nothing, and to breathe into the nostrils the breath of life, are solely Divine attributes, the implication of the culmination of God’s creative act is that creativity is directly tied to the image of God.
Human beings are limitlessly inventive. We make stuff up; we tell stories, we draw, paint and sculpt. We invent writing systems and write books upon books; we find new and better ways of harnessing the resources of the world in which we live. Bronze gives way to iron, which in turn gives way to steel, which in turn gives way to plastic and concrete and all manner of new materials, which in their turn give way to more “natural” materials. We write computer programs to do everything from entertain us to sending people to the moon.
The sheer pace of modern technological development is somewhat frightening. Computers are almost obsolete as soon as they hit the market. Skills which once led to high status are now deemed almost useless, or restricted to limited niche work.
We’re makers. It’s who we are.
Part of my problem with the evolutionary model of human development is that it seems to rest on the assumption that human creativity was much more limited in the past.
Like the discovery of metal-smelting, for instance. They tell us that they think the first metal smelted from ore was more or less accidental. Someone’s cooking fire got hot enough to release metal (probably copper or something else with a low melting point) from the rocks surrounding the fire.
I can buy that, but someone is going to observe the lumps of metal cooling in the ashes and think “that’s cool! I wonder if it would do it again?”
I find it practically inconceivable that people whom scientists assure us were every bit as intelligent as we are didn’t figure out some of this stuff sooner than anyone thinks.
“I wonder what happens if…” and “Will it do it again?” are part of what make us human.
Creativity is more than just figuring things out, however. Human inventiveness has never been confined to problem-solving; someone at Lascaux worked out that if they daubed different colours of earth on the cave walls, they could make some startling pictures. Someone imagined that this bison longbone would look great carved into a fish shape. Someone wanted to personalise their clay pot with a design pressed into the outside.
It’s what people do. It’s what God designed people to do.
There’s not a single human culture that doesn’t make some kind of art, whether it’s a Rembrandt oil painting or a Moai stone head on Easter Island. Cathedral ceiling or Homeric epic, it’s the image of God at work.
It bothers me that Christians are often some of the least creative people around. We’ve been redeemed from the curse of the fall to embody, in Christ, God’s original design for humanity. How can we be as uncreative as we sometimes are?
As Protestants, we distance ourselves from visual art in our churches, fearing that it smacks of idolatry. Certainly that’s a danger, but there’s an equal danger in our stark utilitarianism – God makes things beautiful; it’s pagan magical thinking that is only concerned with what use something is.
Our Christian storytelling is too often derivative, and we feel like we need to put massive labels over everything and make our moral point with a sledgehammer otherwise it isn’t Christian. We become sceptical or nervous of a tale featuring a witch, even as an adversary, lest we stray into pagan magic.
It’s a story. Good versus evil. Treat it on its own terms; look at the underlying Story, not the ornamental details. The symbolism may not be what we’re used to, but Jesus wasn’t afraid to use even serpent imagery for Himself (John 3:14).
Much has been made of the fact that in the Bible account, the various arts of metalworking, animal husbandry and music all stem from Lamech’s children in the line of Cain. Tubalcain, the father of metalworking, in particular turns up as the chief adversary in the recent Noah film, and his metalworking arts are turned to the despoliation of God’s green earth.
I see these arts’ placement as originating in the line of Cain as more like a salutary reminder that even the most wicked are still made in God’s image. Babylon was desperately wicked and has become a byword for opposition to righteousness, yet it was Babylon that made the famous Hanging Gardens.
And if the image of God expressed in the artistic and creative impulse is still present, then surely there is hope. After all, Christ died to restore the broken image.