Our biblical call to make creativity about others --- again.

by Advait Praturi | advait@nlfavatar.com

Creativity isn’t about you.

Take a minute and imagine the vast expanse of the cultural journey of man.

Imagine the vast history of cultural diversity. Think about people’s indomitable quest to explore and discover the world, give it meaning and shape, and leave some legacy behind for generations after them to continue their pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

From the development of the first bow and arrow – made by sharpening stones – to Snapchat and Instagram – technology driven by silicon found in powdered stone (sand) – the steady advance of humanity has, at its very core, the will to shape the world around us.

From where does this will to shape the world come? Why do we find it necessary to write, to work, to create, to dance, to sing, to paint, to think, to brainstorm, to design? Shouldn’t we just be focusing on survival – and leave natural selection to determine who must die and live? Why do we have this need to both receive and express beauty? Why do we have this need to create tools of functional use that seem awesome but that we really don’t need – like the Egg Minder Wink App that notifies you when you’re running out of eggs? Why? (Really…why?)

If we trace the journey back to its very roots – to the first humans in God’s garden – we see in the instance of creation that God commanded them to rule over and steward all that God created.

The idea behind this is that man would partner with God in ruling justly and fairly – living and creating in harmony with the environment, with one another, and with God.

This reveals God’s ingenuity and His original shaping of the world. It also reveals God’s intended desire to impart the same creativity, ingenuity, and innovation to His young and nascent creation.

The divine spark of God’s creativity is in man and woman. So whether bow and arrow, or Instagram, what we create is an inevitable product of the creativity God gave to man.

But at the Fall, when the first humans chose to do things their own way, they made creativity for themselves. In Genesis times, the people got together to build a large tower reaching up to heaven. Why? So they could be like God. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4)

And still today, we keep ourselves at the centre of creativity. We create things – art, music, business, media, apps, video games, cars, magazines, appliances – virtually everything – all to glorify ourselves, secure our comfort, and attempt to give ourselves meaning and purpose. And at worst, our creativity is used to make us feel like gods – to make us feel like we have ownership over something we don’t. In doing so, creativity actually becomes destructive.

Companies do extensive studies on what people find pleasurable – and try to give people a dose of just that. For example, sex was originally intended for one man and one woman for intimacy, to embrace the mystery of union, to procreate and to enjoy one another. Sex is a gift from one person to the other. But in our hypersexualized society, sex becomes more about taking. And we use our “destructive creativity”, from big production houses to small porn studios, to create movies (porn being the worst form of it) to glorify sexualized women and to please our more depraved tendencies.

Self-centered “creativity” is about pleasing people, glorifying oneself and ensuring one’s own prosperity – not calling people to a higher form of thought or towards becoming better human beings.

So our challenge, not just Christians but as people, is to put creativity back in its rightful place.

Our creativity is a means for us to develop and shape the world in a way in which we can live in harmony with one another, with nature and with God. God calls people, through their creativity, to a higher place – not just self-comfort and self-pleasing – but He challenges them to think big, dream big and carry on the quest of making sense of the world. And in that endless journey towards becoming better human beings – filled with the divine values of humility, joy, love and others-centeredness – our hearts are more prepared for receiving Jesus and His Good News. 

Scholars are now beginning to advocate what Jesus lived out 2,000 years ago. As this pair of NYU and Cornell business school professors found out in a study on what drives creativity, a person should “be less self-centered to be more creative.” They write, “The next time you're struggling to solve a creative problem, try solving it for someone else... we're more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of strangers than for ourselves...”

Creativity, can be others-centered, and have redemptive value in our daily lives.

An example from music: Hip-hop culture, has played a pivotal role in influencing global youth culture. Originating in 1970s in a marginalized New York community; it gave voice to the daily struggles of a racial minority community. It was also a means of redemption and hope – a way to celebrate with one another in a place where struggle was synonymous with life. In the same vein, Jesus is counter-cultural and offers a new way of viewing the world – a lens that challenges conformist thinking and calls all people to dwell – each in own their unique way – on the Kingdom of God. As a storytelling medium, Hip-Hop has – in the last decade – become much more about boasting and self-glorifying, than about the painful struggles of a community. Even the lyrics remain largely similar from rapper to rapper. Yet there are some – like at Reach Records or at the Humble Beast - who are using the beat to tell the story of something far greater than themselves. These men and women are shaping the way their culture responds to God, to others, and to the world through the music they make.

An example from business: Creativity is not just limited to the arts and to storytelling. There are those who are bringing Christian values of love for the poor and care for the disenfranchised to the businesses that they do and systems and processes they create. These are for-profit companies that lift up those in poverty by raising living wages and improving livelihoods of local communities they directly impact. Moreover, they are providing goods and services that provide benefits for the poor – like nutritional products and clean water. These are businesses that while continuing to be profitable to shareholders also deeply value their employees, their customers, society, and the environment.   

These examples show us that God created the world to give us a home – a place where we could live in harmony with Him, with other people, and with His created order. Our creativity ought to do the very same thing: safeguard the environment and provide a secure and healthy place for our children to grow; restore people's dignities and enable them to grow in creativity and meditate on God everyday, and discover Jesus, the One who modeled perfect selflessness and creativity when He walked here on earth.