I was supposed to be networking. That’s what normal people do when surrounded by a city’s top leaders, as I was at a recent Q Ideas Conference at the Denver Performing Arts Center. But during the break between sessions, I found myself sipping coffee, standing alone amidst the buzzing conversation, and utterly transfixed by the artwork of Jake Weidmann.
Three paintings of a lion sat on easels. The first lion’s mane was ablaze, representing God the Father, a consuming fire (Deut. 4.24). The second lion’s mane was a barbed wire, an allusion to the suffering of God the Son. And the third lion’s mane was a river, the Living Water given by God the Spirit (Jn. 7:38). As I beheld Weidmann’s arresting creativity and Trinitarian imagination, I quietly thought to myself,“We are at our best when our daily work reflects the creative work of God himself.”
Made in the Image of the Maker
When looking for a model for work, the best place to start is God’s own work. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Both the Bible and the creeds (“I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”) begin with the work of creation. Genesis paints a picture of the Maker of supernovas, seashores and salamanders who spawns new life and new realities through creative, joyful work (Gen. 2:2-3; Ps. 104:24-26,31). On the sixth day, God declared his creative work was very good – and the angels shouted for joy at what they saw (Gen. 1:31; Job. 38:7).
English playwright and author Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) said that when God made men and women in His image, all he had done until that point was create. Sayers writes,
“Man is a maker, who makes things because he wants to, because he cannot fulfill his true nature if he is prevented from making things for the love of the job. He is made in the image of the Maker, and he himself must create or become something less than man.”
God made grass seeds, and giraffes, and those in His image make gorilla glue, graham crackers, and grandfather clocks. Work is not only something we do for money, but rather it is the first expression of our spiritual, mental and bodily faculties. At its best, work is a creative act.
The word “creativity” should be broadened past associations with bohemian artists or ad agency professionals.To create is to initiate an object or a project (a definition of the Hebrew word bara). Bringing new products, ideas or organizations into existence is all creative work. For example, Jake Weidmann brought a trinity of lions into existence from a mere thought, which now shapes me, the beholder of his art. A landscaper conceives of a beautiful garden, plants and cultivates the roses, and sees the homeowners enjoy their color and aroma. An engineer designs a more efficient hood for a commercial stove top, and works with technicians to install his new creation. Dorothy Sayers’ masterful The Mind of the Maker argues that all satisfying human work is essentially Trinitarian in that it is creative (bringing something into existence) and follows a three-part process (idea, product, and effect, which mirrors Father, Son and Spirit). She even wonders if uncreative activities and an uncreative outlook might be “doing violence to the very essence of our being.”
Many puzzle over how to best ground a theology of work. Should it begin with evangelism, ethics, or simply a desire to do a good job? Today several leading voices are looking to creativity to understand work. Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making grounds a theology of work in both our identity as sub-creators and cultivators of God’s world. Tim Keller’s new book Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work spends no less than three chapters chewing on the creation narrative. Marketing Guru Seth Godin believes the most exciting work is found in “art” – doing something unpredictable, brave, and un-chartered. Even the staunchly atheistic Ayn Rand saw the centrality of creativity to human work:
“Whether it’s a symphony of a coal mine, all work is an act of creating, and comes from the same source…the capacity to see, to connect and make what had not been seen, connected and made before.”
I work in an office. On some days, I find myself checking email every other hour, bouncing between websites, and meandering the halls of my school. I come home utterly exhausted, feeling like old Bilbo Baggins: “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Other days I plan my schedule, start and finish significant projects, and come home brimming over with energy for my kids. What is the difference the two days? Sustained, creative work.
Re-centering on God the Creator
Far too many churches see faith and work ministries as an optional add-on. But when viewed through the lens of the doctrine of God the Creator, integrating faith and work becomes central. We are reflections of the God who weaved together atom and galaxy, desert and DNA. Our impulse to create and work comes from bearing the image of the Maker. In a world where most work is seen merely as a means to money or leisure, the mandate to create human culture (Gen. 1:28) as a fulfillment of our very reason for being (Eph. 2:10) becomes ever more pressing. The need for joyful, satisfying work beats in the human heart. This is precisely why unemployment is so distressing. All of us, from the elderly to small children, are made to make. My four-year old daughter declares this truth when I pick her up from preschool: “Daddy, look what I painted for you today.”
A renewed commitment to teaching about God the Creator can also give deep hope to so many who despair over their jobs. Again Sayers writes,
Far too many people in this country seem to go about only half alive. All their existence is an effort to escape from what they are doing. And the inevitable result of this is a boredom, a lack of purpose, a passivity which eats life away at the heart and a disillusionment which prompts men to ask what life is all about.
When people hate their work, or perceive it as a necessary drudgery that gets them to the weekend, they go about “half alive” and often fall into a trap of boredom and meaninglessness. But the biblical story is founded in a Creator who works for sheer delight, and is making all things new. When this narrative is applied to writing lesson plans or building clinics, a renewed motivation for culture making can bring about a deep happiness to even the most mundane task. It may even bring about the cultural renewal.
As I came out of my trance staring at Jake Weidmann’s three lions during a break at the Q Conference, I took a look outside the window. The rising sun lit up the Rocky Mountains in the distance, and sprinkled its warmth on the flock of cars filing into Denver. As I sat at my table and prepared for the next presenter, I quietly wondered what life would look like if we viewed work not as a job, but as an act of creation.