Historically, “holiness” streams have had deep-seated suspicions of the Creative Arts; the Arts are distractions or diversions at best, and sinful pursuits, at worst.
To some degree this was a reaction to cases of idolatrous fixations on icons and statutes in the ancient churches. Too often we see the tendency to worship creation more than the Creator (Romans 1:18-20). And more recently, these suspicious are confirmed by examples of exceptionally talented believers who sell their souls to Hollywood and Nashville.
But the abuse of something doesn’t automatically make it evil. Many marriages fall apart, yet God still ordains the marriage bond. And just because some abuse the arts, God has not limited us solely to utilitarian activity.
We serve the Creator God
By nature we are creative beings. Why? Because we are made in the image of the Creator God.
God created a spectacle of color and contrast. Blue heavens, green earth. Black nights and brilliant, color-filled days.
Every time I go snorkeling in the Red Sea I see a myriad of marine life robed in every hue of the rainbow. I’m blown away by it.
God loves movement — seemingly infinite species of sea creatures dance and dive and through the waters. Winged birds of every kind float, and then suddenly fleet across the skies.
Cattle graze and enjoy quiet green meadows. They moo in the bass range, while the deer sings tenor, while the choir’s contralto part is supplied by the sparrows and wrens, soaring above the earth with their playful melodies. Scientists have discovered that there are at least 5400 species of the animals who sing!
God creates enchanting light shows in the far northern nights. He manufactures mist to rise from the earth to add a sense of mystery and drama (God has no need for smoke machines).
God is even into the culinary arts. He could have presented Adam and Eve their food in a brown paper bag. But instead, “out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Genesis 2:9) God serves the pinnacle of His creation with panache — a banquet for the eyes as well as the stomach.
God’s whole creation is a feast for the eyes and ears.
So that’s Our Creator. But what about you and me?
We are creative because we are made in His image
Is it chutzpah to think we too have creative powers that add anything to God’s perfect world?
Logic tells me that if God the Creator made us like Himself, then we too have the ability and permission to create. (I actually prefer to say, ‘RE-create’, because we work with raw materials that God already brought into existence. HE, unlike US, created ex nihilo. While He creates, we only re-create by bringing together a unique combination of these existing elements into novel sounds and shapes and movement).
In the Psalms we’re exhorted to “sing a new song.” But the original elements from which we make our “creations” have God’s exclusive copyright stamped upon them. We think we have done something awesome by building machines that fly; but birds and bees have been been flying the skies for quite a long time without our help. We build multi-million dollar submarines to travel deep in the ocean; but the simplest of fish and other sea creatures have been able to do this with ease since creation.
And when it comes to fine arts, when we paint or draw a beautiful landscape–we’re just offering personal impressions of what God has already made. All our ingenious ‘inventions’ are of a lower rank and order that those of the original Creator.
Our Messiah models and sanctifies human creativity
The Messiah’s earthly existence began in a man-made crib (a jerry-rigged feeding trough). Jesus, who Himself created the universe (See John 1), would later sleep in a humanly designed fishing craft in the midst of a storm. Jesus spent three days lying NOT in a natural, God-made cave, but a man-made tomb, “carved out of the rock.” (Matthew 27:60)
The Messiah actually spent more of his life working in the building and design field than he did in ‘spiritual’ ministry.
The fact that Jesus entered man-made worship centers (artfully decorated synagogues and Temple) implies that He acknowledged their value. When he was in the synagogue in Nazareth Jesus he read from a scroll inscribed by the exacting hand of a scribe and master calligrapher. By lifting up a man-made cup of wine and blessing it, Jesus makes holy use of the work of a craftsman.
Our Messiah celebrates the arts. So should we.
God even commands us to create
God commands Noah in Genesis 6:14-16:
“Make for yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch. 15 And this is how you shall make it: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 You shall make a window for the ark, and you shall finish it to a cubit from above; and set the door of the ark in its side. You shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.”
God could have created the ark with His own hands–and saved Noah many decades of sweat and tears and a lot of abuse from his neighbors. But instead, God ordered a man to create it.
The Psalmist gives these commands. “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; Praise Him with the lute and harp!…Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; Praise Him with clashing cymbals!” (Psalm 150). Note that not a single one of those musical instruments grows on trees. Nor were any of these instruments created in heaven and then lowered down to earth by a long cable. Each of these instruments are man-made: Trumpets, lutes, harps, stringed instruments, flutes, cymbals.
These instruments not only produce beautiful sounds, but their appearance express beauty as well. Archeologists have discovered instruments that were are not mere utilitarian sound machines–but works of art, sculpted, carved or molded with artistic flair.
Our God is the Creator God. And because He has made us in His image He designed us to create (or re-create). Not only do we have divine permission to create, but God expects it from us.
In upcoming posts I’ll show how the arts are….
- a means of effective communication.
- a means of holy enjoyment.
- a means of enhanced worship.
Finally, I’ll offer ways to maximize our God-given creativity.
Have you been held back from expressing your creative side because of faulty theology? Have you seen cases where the creative arts have been an unhealthy distraction or diversion? In what ways have you seen the creative arts adding value to your life or others? I’d love to hear your perspective.