Faith and Creativity

Genesis 1
Ephesians 2:10
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott

Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz.   This is the original Hebrew of the very first verse in our Bible, Genesis 1.

Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

When I took Hebrew in seminary, our professor required us to memorize that first verse, and though I went on to take another two years of Hebrew, I have since forgotten almost everything I learned except that one verse which I can still recite from memory.  I can’t remember all of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet anymore, or the difference between the imperfect tense and the perfect tense in Hebrew, or even if there is a perfect tense in Hebrew, but I can still say, “Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  And maybe it is because of the way that that one Hebrew sentence has sunk into my bones that makes it easy for me to accept the theory of evolution while still understanding the creative nature of God because in spite of the creationists trying to make Genesis into a scientific treatise, when you read the book in Hebrew, you can sense immediately that what you are reading is not science but a poem.  Here in Genesis, God isn’t cooking up elements in a chemistry lab but is playfully imagining possibilities.  God is brushing paint on a canvas to bring a vision to life.  Listen to the literal translation from the Hebrew of Genesis 1:20 when God creates fish and birds: “And [now] God is saying, ‘They shall roam the waters, the roamer of living souls and the flyer shall fly over the face of the earth and in the atmospheres of heaven.”  The book of Genesis begins with poetry, with artistry, with music and song, with divine imagination and holy possibility as God envisions a new world and then speaks it into being and after God creates humankind, the Hebrew proclaims with a shout of joy, “And God sees all which God made and Behold! [oh so] Very good!” 

The first thing we read in our Bible is that our God is a creative, artistic God.  Our God, the Bible tells us, isn’t sitting in some far-off heaven feet propped up and sipping a beer watching us as if we are just a show on Netflix, but God is always at work among us, creating, changing nothings into somethings and imagining new possibilities for our lives and for the world. 

And moreover, the Bible says, God has placed this same creative impulse in us.  Genesis 1:26 says that God created us in God’s image which means that God intends for us to also bring light out of darkness, somethings out of nothings, to imagine the world in new ways, and bring those visions into reality.  Faith and creativity are intertwined; the faithful person is a creative person, because the person of faith recognizes that they are made in the image of our God whose first and fundamental characteristic is that of creativity. 

Now, if you don’t consider yourself artistic or you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, you might be thinking right now, “If the faithful person is a creative person, then I am doomed,” but creativity means more than just being able to paint a landscape.  One of the best definitions I have heard of creativity is this one by the author C.J. Lyons who defined creativity as “Living in possibility and abundance rather than [in] limitation and scarcity.”  In other words, a creative person is someone who looks around and sees possibility and an abundance of resources to meet that possibility even when things are tough, while an uncreative person is someone who always feels limited by their circumstances and who worries that there will be insufficient resources to solve the problems of the day.  If, for example, a creative person and an uncreative person are walking down the road together and come to something blocking their way, the uncreative person will say, “I guess our walk is finished,” and hunker down in the dirt giving in to defeat in the face of that roadblock but the creative person will say, “Well, this is certainly an inconvenience.  Let’s see if there is a path around it; or maybe we can climb over it; or maybe we can dig under it; or maybe we can find an ax and chop our way through it.” A creative person is a person who lives in hope and looks for new possibilities while an uncreative person is a person who lives with a sense of futility and fear.

  When you think of creativity in that way, it is easy to see that creativity is the mark of faith, for we are called to be people of hope who refuse to hunker down in despair but rather who are to seek new ways forward, who are to trust that the God who at the very beginning of things brought light out of darkness and who in Christ, brought life out of death, can help us to meet the challenges of this day.  

And we will require all the creativity we can muster because these days are challenging indeed.  Just accomplishing the good works that, according to the letter to Ephesians, are central to the Christian life, takes a lot of imagination right now.  How do you show kindness to your neighbor when you are social distancing?  How do you express love to one another when you can’t hug each other or drop by someone’s house to share a cup of coffee?  How do you ensure that the hungry are fed when it’s hard to staff the food pantry?  How do you seek justice and reconciliation when racial intolerance consumes our nation, when inequities are so entrenched that there are no simple solutions?  The uncreative person will hunker down in the face of such trouble and give in to futility and fear, but the creative person — the person of faith — will seek new possibilities and imagine new ways forward and believe that, with God’s infinite help, we will have the resources to bring those visions into reality.

And you as people of faith, have been doing that for the last five months.  I mean, just look at all of you, Zooming your way to worship.  It wasn’t easy to make that change; it’s not perfect; but when Covid-19 dropped a huge roadblock into our life as a church, together we found creative new ways of being the body of Christ.

So too, because we are faithful people, created in the image of a creative God, we will find continue to find new ways of showing our compassion to our neighbor, new ways of expressing kindness in a socially distanced world.  And when we face challenges in our own lives — when relationships flounder, when our bodies fail, when we mess up things because we are fallible and flawed, we will grieve and cry, but we will not despair.  If the future is not what we thought it would be, we will remember that we have hitched our lives to the God who created something out of nothing, who brought light out of darkness, and who raised Christ from death into new life, and we will trust that the God who has been doing all of that creative work since the beginning of time can do it in our lives as well.

And as faithful followers of Christ, we will seek new ways of fashioning a society that is just and compassionate, where people of every color and sexual orientation and gender identification and background and, toughest of all, even political preference can live in peace with one another.  It will not be easy, and we may not see the results of our work in our lifetime, but we were created by a creative God for the good works that will nourish all people and as people of faith, we will not hunker down and give up but will find a path forward to bring the future that God imagines for all of us into being.

We are faithful people created in the image of a creative God.  And so, no matter how challenging these times may be, we will not despair but we will trust that with God’s help, we will learn to create something out of nothing, to bring light out of darkness, to bring life out of death, and live lives of abundance and possibility.