There's a verb in the Hebrew language—bara', meaning "to create"—that is only used when speaking of God. It punctuates the books of the Old Testament, persistently and unmistakably revealing an essential attribute of God. The very first thing readers learn in Genesis is that God is creative."In the beginning, God created...."
Then like a ribbon the evidence is unfurled. Light...water...plants...sky...fish...birds...animals...and finally people, in whom God instills His creativity. "It is part of His character that He gives us,"stated Michael Wise, Ph.D., professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Languages, and that He, in turn, "encourages within us."
God must care about creativity, Wise said, since it's how He communicates with people. He enveloped Adam and Eve in beauty and surrounds every generation with His stunningly inventive natural world, a creation designed to remind us, "Look. Look at Me!" Paul reminded us too when he wrote, "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made." (Romans 1:20a) Scripture—God's second living, breathing creation—also speaks of that creativity. Rather than a utilitarian manual, the Bible is nuanced, sacred, incomparable. It uses poetry, hyperbole, story, parables, and paradox. It invites questions and struggle—and ongoing investigation. It transforms people.The Bible isn't done revealing its secrets. Christian mystics, prophets, artists and scholars devote themselves to the task of continued research, creation and personal transformation. "The idea that biblical understanding is fixed and set and there's nothing for new generations to do but daub a little paint on it just isn't accurate," Wise said. "There are much more profound things going on than that"—true opportunities for discovery.
Mirroring the Creator
While only God creates out of nothing, humans pick up from there, using existing creation to invent and reveal new ideas. The process isn't always orderly. It can be messy, disappointing. But creators and inventors can be involved in the work of God: exposing injustice, helping humankind through medical or scientific breakthroughs, giving voice to the underrepresented through the arts and advancing scholarship. "Because creativity matters to God, it should therefore matter to us," said Wise. To be creative is to participate with God in the ongoing progress of the universe. "The universe as it exists isn't static. It's constantly being created. There's creation yet to come." When we create, we imitate God—and experience Him.
This story originally appeared in University of Northwestern's Pilot magazine, spring 2014.