In Art and the Bible, creative Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer put it like this: “No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is called upon to be an artist in this sense. He may have no gift of writing, no gift of composing or singing, but each man has the gift of creativity in terms of how he lives his life. In this sense, the Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.”1
It’s a reminder that we are called not just to do creative things but to live creative lives. Indeed, creativity is primarily a way of living life. It is never only on the page, canvas, musical instrument or stage of whatever kind. It is first about the home, the community, the workplace, the school, the office, the church and the street. Wherever we have a choice how we live, respond and react, we can choose creativity—or not.
The tasks of creativity are difficult, requiring our best efforts and a healthy balance of ego and empathy.
Our most important acts of creativity might never be awarded, framed, published, performed, sold or even recognised. Large or small, they make a difference in the lives of those with whom we have influence. At times, this may call for artistic creativity within our skills and abilities but, perhaps more often, it might be about simply showing up and doing our part—but doing it well, doing it thoughtfully, doing it creatively.
Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy when He explained the greatest commandment as loving God (see Mark 12:30), so this command was first given in the context of the larger laws that encompassed all of life, worship, annual festivals, care for health, care for others, care for land and animals, even what we eat. As suggested by the second “great” commandment—love for others as ourselves—loving is not so much a fuzzy feeling but active living. So loving God is not about our feeling so much as our faithfulness, loving and living with passion, engagement, energy, purpose and creativity, living “with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength” (see Mark 12:30).
In the beginning, God created a world that He described as “very good” (see Genesis 1:31), expressing a contented, justified and healthy pride in not just the function but also the beauty of all He had created. This beauty is a recurring cause for praising God and something God points to in responding to questions about the true nature of life in our world (see Job 38–40). In God’s explanations, beauty is an important factor in a proper understanding of His creation and our lives.
However, we cannot and should not try to deny that we live in a “lost and despairing world”. So much around us is broken. So many people are hurt. Violence and power grab the headlines. The problems and tragedies can seem overwhelming. We can succumb to compassion fatigue and the paralysis of repeated pain. We are tempted to despair.
Paul responds: “Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21). This is a call to faithful creativity and imagination. Art in all its forms can confront the brokenness and despair around us and within us, as well as creating beauty as an act of profound resistance and hope in the face of seeming hopelessness. We reject the voices that tell us that what we see and feel are all there is and all that can be. Instead, we offer alternative and hopeful acts of imagination that begin to transform the world around us today, as well as pointing to our ultimate hopes about what our world will be and how our Creator will re-create.
And this is not only about art but about the faithful art of living well. We resist despair in our choices, actions, engagement, love and creativity, always seeking to overcome evil by doing good, by creating beauty, by practising hope.
Collaboration with others
One of the romanticised images of art and creativity is that of the lonely artist working feverishly in a cluttered studio or remote location, but the art of the creative faithful life is best lived in collaboration. The tasks of creativity are difficult, requiring our best efforts and a healthy balance of ego and empathy. It is more difficult still when practiced as resistance against evil and despair.
The Christian’s life as a thing of truth and beauty—our great call to creativity—needs a community of collaboration and support. In the context of the hope we have, the writer of Hebrews urges, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). We are not expected to do this on our own. We should be able to draw on the resources of a creative and faithful community.
We must also be prepared to contribute to such a creative collective, encouraging others in their creative living and contributing to a community environment in which creative and counter-cultural lives and projects are supported and welcomed. When others fear and attack acts of creativity or when truth is devalued or beauty dismissed as worthless or unnecessary, we will use our voices and influence to create safety and support for those whose work has been criticised and to encourage them to still greater “acts of love and good works”.
Collaboration with our Creator
But even this creative role, together with all the other creative calls on our lives, is built on a deeper and greater collaboration with the Creator Himself. The call to live our lives as our greatest work of art is daunting—until we recognise that even this work is one of collaboration with the Great Artist: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).
The art of our lives is primarily God’s work, made possible by our collaboration with Him. Our best lives, our best creativity, are based on the grace, hope and love He offers us. The most profound truth and beauty we can imagine are found in His acts of creativity and re-creativity. Our invitation—and our most significant creative act—is to choose collaboration with the kingdom-building creativity of God in our lives and in our world.
Remarkably, our creativity is one of the ways He is at work in our world. Our most authentic and faithful creativity—in all its forms: life, relationships, good works, art, imagination and so much more—spring from our Creator, as do we ourselves, as His masterpieces of creativity. And when we acknowledge this inspiration and this source, the self-portraits our lives create become less acts of ego than acts of worship.
1. Francis Schaeffer, Art and the Bible (IVP Classics), Intervarsity Press, 2006, page 94.
Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation.
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing. This article is adapted from Manifest: Our Call to Faithful Creativity. He is co-convener of the Manifest Creative Arts Festival, which this year will be hosted at Avondale College of Higher Education, March 20–23. See <www.artsmanifest.info> for more information, to register and to enter the competitions.