What is Creativity

בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Gen 1:1

In his mind, the amalgamation of all powers created both giving and receiving.

As I have written elsewhere, this is a valid translation of Genesis 1:1. Is it creative? I think it is as it breaks tradition and takes a very different look at a few words that are somewhat burned into our shared consciousness.

Traditional translations, inspired by people like Luther even in the English as Tyndale in his foundational English translation drew heavily from Luther, and all further translations into English and German were influenced by those two men, translated with a very external, materialistic view.

It for them is all about the creation of the physical universe. And by putting this in the beginning, they place even more importance on the environment, on physical, materialistic creation.

We even choose the word creation to talk about the physical universe. Granted, there is more to creation than its physicality, but many people today see that dimension as emergent from complexity of the physical–that defines a materialistic worldview.

This has led to a narrow understanding of creativity. We often expect an outcome, an outflow of creativity in the physical world. We expect people to create art like music, writings or paintings, form wood, stone, metal, or maybe even ephemeral work like spontaneous dance.

Today, we could even ask whether something even is creative if there is no exhibit or at least a youtube clip about it. If I cannot either travel to where the artwork is, or watch it on screen, does it even exist?

Yet we should not define creativity by the outcome, rather by the process and by the betweenness.

When we think about above translation of Genesis 1:1, we could concentrate on the giving and receiving entities, and yes, they have to exist for giving and receiving to take place. But it is less the entities we concentrate on, because they could stand for anything, even not entertain a relationship with each other. It is the betweenness and the description of their relationship that gives purpose.

You might now say that heavens and earth concentrate on the two opposing entities, not their relationship. I would counter that nouns in Hebrew always express functions, not just names.

The word for earth stems from a root meaning “broken, shattered, crushed”. The picture comes to mind of a dried out land desperately waiting for the rain, that is, waiting to receive from the heavens.

So we get this picture that God, the amalgamation of all powers, conceptualized the relationship between himself and creation, himself and man as giving and receiving.

I have used that image that I have stolen myself from a friend before:

God is like a beamer that projects an image of himself, but there was no screen the image would be projected to and reflected from. Thus, the beam of light just vanished in space. God made creation including man as the screen that would receive and reflect the image hidden in the beam, and made God visible.

But what has all this to do with creativity, apart from telling us archetypically about the first creative act ever done and the one creative act that is ongoing and never ending? What does it show us about our own creativity?

First, we have to understand the imago dei: in God’s image.

Greeks explained creativity as an act of a spirit, a muse, something non-human, an external entity that took hold of a person and made it the channel of its creativity. Creativity therefore was a non-human feature, a passage, an impartation by the spiritual realm.

When we hear Christians today, deflecting any compliment to the Holy Spirit, and praising him for all creativity, we are reminded of this Greek thinking much more than sound theology. I think that this deflection is false humility, belittling God’s creation, especially humanity.

We are made in the image of God, and though we cannot create a universe in this reality (we certainly can in virtual realities), we possess creativity as one of the godly attributes he shared with us. So yes, he is the source of creativity, and we can thank him for that, but we can and ought to accept that we too are creative beings.

It is the betweenness of God and us, and it is the betweenness of what we apply our creativity to and us. Creativity is not an end product that can be viewed, that is just the outcome of creativity at play–unless it is a copy of something and does not need creativity in the fist place.

Creativity is this interplay of a giver and a receiver, with the added characteristics of this interplay being novel and useful. Creativity studies usually call those dimensions originality/uniqueness and appropriateness/usefulness.

I find the dimension of appropriateness/usefulness rather utilitarian and problematic–who is going to decide. Especially in areas where tradition is of great value, creativity might always be seen as utopian, dystopian, inappropriate, or lacking usefulness.

I am very blunt here: my blog is an obscure outlet of alternative interpretations of the bible that might be called original, but might well lack usefulness due to the closed mindset of traditional religion that has found absolute truth already and damns all novelty, and appropriateness because the powers to be deem my thoughts dangerous and confusing for the sheep (commoners in church). Whining off.

For me, creativity is a novel idea that manifests in some way to provoke thought and change at best, first within the creative person, then maybe in others either through the exchange of that idea or its manifestation, or through osmosis of the change within the original thinker. Sometimes it suffices if the creator just shows up differently to provoke change, doesn’t it? And sometimes it’s through our own pondering of the work.

Creativity provokes a different view of something, and at times a new worldview, great questions asked and new tools found to deal with life circumstances. Whether this will be applicable and useful, only time will tell, and maybe it will not because we never tried, or never tried an alternative.

And still, coming back to the beginning thought, creativity includes the principles of giving and receiving. Thus, if there is no receiver, creativity vanishes in time and space.

So we have arrived at a variant of a known philosophical problem: “Does creativity exist if nobody sees or appreciates it?”

Did a tree fall if nobody heard it? Do God and God’s love exist if nobody receives them?

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By Ralph Rickenbach

Accompanyist | Pastor in Exile | Iconoclast — I am a Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach and a Spiral Dynamics practitioner.