How Can I, Even I, Be Creative?
Although one can (and should) argue that creativity towards the glory of God occurs in all aspects of our lives, my primary creative lens has been through music.
Who comes to mind when you think of a creative person? What are the characteristics of this individual—outrageously artistic? Flamboyantly energetic, fantastically extroverted, and full of endless thoughts and ideas? Bursting at the seams with musicality, humming and doodling without any cares in the world? Slightly out of touch with reality, with their head oftentimes in the clouds?
Well, that’s not me.
I’m at home in a world of spreadsheets. I quickly become bored and impatient when listening to grandiose ideas, immediately spotting the impracticalities. I spend most of each day in a manufacturing plant, implementing and encouraging ideas (not generating them myself). I’m naturally introverted and driven by rational reasoning to a fault. And I have never been accused of wearing my emotions on my sleeve! Yet at the same time, I consider myself to be a creative individual. Those who hear me play the piano on Sunday morning may be shocked at my lack of stereotypical “creative” personality traits.
Musical Creative Process
Although one can (and should) argue that creativity towards the glory of God occurs in all aspects of our lives, my primary creative lens has been through music. To demonstrate what creativity as a form of praise looks like from the perspective of an overly rational creator, let’s examine how I create music as a pianist and as a composer.
My creative process as a pianist reflects my natural tendencies toward logic and rational problem-solving. Practicing scales and arpeggios for hours on end is far from artistically invigorating, and much of my piano practice revolves around solving very specific technical or musical problems.
If I am playing a melody in octaves, should I highlight the lower or higher note? If the music requires a trill or embellishment, where is the balance or center of gravity in my hand and fingers that provide a light and articulate touch?
Similarly, here’s an example of my iterative process when arranging a solo piano setting to a hymn from the 2002 Christadelphian Hymn Book, #168, The Lord Is In His Holy Temple. The music starts as a simple sketch, with a harmonic progression penciled in. This is derived primarily via music theory through various trials and errors.
Next, a more detailed sketch is created, including inner voices and potential rhythms.
Then the hard work of editing and revising begins. The music is typed up and corrected while at the piano bench to better achieve the intended musical objectives, such as:
- A clear and recognizable melody,
- Music matching the text, climaxing on “let all of the earth” and diminishing through “be silent before Him.”
And this finally results in a finished product!
Diversity in Unity
While I personally approach music creation in this method, there are numerous different creative approaches to composition. Looking through music history, a composer such as J.S. Bach achieved virtual mathematical perfection in his counterpoint. For a fun rabbit hole, take a look at his Musical Offering or Art of the Fugue. Bach could take a brutally difficult theme and turn it literally inside out, backward, and upside down—all at the same time.
Other composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Franz Schubert seemed to fit the prototypical “creative genius” description, where their compositions flow from an inner voice as indicated by their first draft being nearly identical to the published work.
By contrast, composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven or Johannes Brahms spent years tinkering with their themes, working through each note and phrase until the composer was 100% satisfied.
The beauty of this diversity in creativity is that it enables different individuals with unique personalities and characteristics to contribute in their own creative way. This diversity is good! We see this in the various personalities displayed by different Biblical characters: Paul’s legal arguments, Peter’s impulsive zeal, Isaac’s empathy and relationship building, David’s sweeping emotions, and Ezra’s studiousness.
This ultimately speaks to the diversity that God has designed within the unity of the body of Christ. Each of us can offer our creativity towards furthering God’s glory, no matter our personality! Just because I approach creation with a methodical approach does not diminish the person who can spontaneously improvise a new song or someone who works best in a collaborative setting. These different approaches yield different creations that all speak to the multifaceted character and glory of God.
As the seminal 1 Corinthians 12 passage discusses,
We are all created by God in His image, and the uniqueness of every person speaks to God’s creativity and the different roles that each of us fulfills in our walk. When put together, the sum of the whole body exceeds the individual contributions of each part.
Amazingly, the same God who made the beautiful mountains of the Pacific Northwest is the same God who designed our universe’s chemical structures and molecular bonds. He is also the same Creator of the linguistic, anthropological, and sociological factors that have led to countless unique communities across the history of the world.
It is in God’s nature and character to be a Creator.
As God Himself is a diverse and creative being, we are likewise all called to be creative in our unique ways, doing all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:17). Some potential examples include:
- A parent creating a fun craft to encourage a child’s imagination.
- A computer programmer elegantly solving a specific coding challenge.
- A student seizing an opportunity in a study group’s conversation to add a Biblical connection.
- A homeowner using common materials to solve an uncommon problem.
- A retail worker engaging reluctant customers in an unexpectedly positive and vibrant discussion.
- A Bible student presenting a lesson with a unique introduction or a fascinating twist to better connect with an audience.
It is in God’s nature and character to be a Creator. This truth leaps from the Scriptures from the very start. “In the beginning God created.” (Gen 1:1). Only a few paragraphs later, God’s first words to humanity were to “be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:28).
While this commandment is nuanced with many applications, the concept of being fruitful implies creating new things, just as fruit springs forth from a branch. We are called to create new life, as God emphasizes the need for humans to be creative from the very beginning of God’s plan. We are created in God’s image, and as images of God, we reflect God’s character. Therefore just as God is a Creator, we too must reflect the creativity that is a crucial part of God Himself.
We see this focus extend throughout the Bible, culminating in God’s final Master Plan for the earth to “be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14). As we exercise our creativity, we manifest God’s creativity as the Creator of the world.
Messiness of Creativity
Speaking on behalf of the “non-creative” personalities, one common pitfall is a fear of failure. Perhaps you, like me, pursue perfection and shy away from opportunities with a high degree of risk. I naturally prefer life to be black-and-white and avoid situations with uncertainty.
Our calling to be creative, however, requires embracing shades of gray. Creativity is messy and is never guaranteed to lead to the outcomes we originally intended. What we create is not perfect! “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl 1:9), so as images of God, we only reflect the creative nature that God has. We ourselves do not create new creations.
Looking at the previously mentioned composition, for instance, I remain unsatisfied with the final product! The concluding section lacks momentum and has a texture that is too thin, leading to a climax that does not quite land the knockout punch and falls just short. I love elements of this composition, but creativity requires us to embrace our shortcomings. Pursuing perfectionism can lead to paralysis, an inability ever to begin creating. At its root, this is an exercise in legalism and human pride, an inability to rely on God’s grace to cover our inadequacies as we attempt to produce work that is “good enough,” attempting to have our works be sufficient.
Extending this further, a fascinating phenomenon occurs in a Conservatory setting. After being surrounded by a musical environment for several months, many students find their ears improve faster than their musical abilities. When listening to identical recordings six months apart, students can critique the music much more quickly, accurately, and comprehensively than before.
In my case, this meant that in high school, I thought I was God’s greatest gift to the piano, and I could do no wrong. Yet now, when I listen back on my high school recordings, I cringe as I hear my flaws, following a musical maturation process where I gained insight and clarity into how far my piano playing was from the ideal musical outcome. This phenomenon often causes a miniature crisis for Conservatory students as they realize, “Oh no, I’m not anywhere close to being as good as I thought I was. I have so much to learn!”
And does this not mirror our experience as maturing followers of Christ? The Law was introduced to bring awareness of sin (Rom 3:20), sharpening our focus on our shortcomings. The purpose of the Law was not to overcome sin via our personal piety and adherence to it but to teach us our efforts are insufficient and fall short. This points to our need for Christ’s redeeming and atoning work (Gal 3:24).
Therefore, as we grow in faith, our “musical ear” is sharpened. We recognize nuances and unexpected challenges of living a spiritual life we never realized we were missing. Growing in faith provides us with better knowledge of the ideal way to live, as embodied by Christ (Col 1:26-2:3).
Instead of our deeper knowledge increasing our pride, this fuller understanding of our weaknesses leads us towards more faith, towards more humility, towards more reliance on Jesus as we become more aware of our sin and our need for Christ (we see this played out in John 8:5-9 and expounded in 1 Cor 1:18-31).
Being creative is not an easy commission from God. Yet, He gives us this command to show how much we ultimately need Him. We cannot create perfection of our own accord. Our creations fall short of the perfect glory only God can create.
Instead, our creativity is an outpouring of our desire to manifest God’s nature in our uniquely created way while simultaneously reminding us that Christ’s “power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).
It is ultimately not about our own personality, talents, or work ethic that manifests God’s glory. That honor belongs to Christ, who covers our imperfections and presents us as holy, blameless, and beyond reproach to God (Col 1:22). We are all designed to be creative and glorify and praise God through our modest creations.
Chicago Ecclesia, IL
- All Biblical quotations are from the NASB translation.
- Bro. Nathan Richard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to hear Nathan’s completed (yet imperfect!) arrangement of “The Lord is in His Holy Temple”?
Visit mytidings.org/h9b to listen!