“Working in the Garden”

“Working in the Garden: Four Presuppositions About Being Creative”

Paul D. Patton, Ph.D., Department Chair


The Bible tells us that “in the beginning, God created the heave ns and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). These creative acts of God were uniquely “out of nothing.” Humans, being God’s “image-bearers,” (reflecting what He is like to the rest of His earthly creation) are, therefore, called to create. God created; we are called to create. Yet human acts of “creativity” are acts that reform and refashion preexisting materials, ideals, and ideas. They are never “out of nothing.” So our creative products and processes are always witness to the inter-dependent nature of human existence.

We never create anything “out of nothing,” nor do we ever create anything absolutely by ourselves. Our perspective on a magazine article, or our passion for artistic experiment leading to a fantastically original short film is always reflecting the influence of someone else—be it the communication theorist who taught the journalist how to frame a story, or the inventor of the newest filmmaking camera. The human participants, while absolutely dependent upon the omnipotent wisdom of the Creator, are also absolutely inter-dependent with the rest of God’s earthly creation. It is this gracious framework out of which we cultivate the earth with creative acts.

Therefore, the creative work we seek to enhance at SAU always acknowledges the variety of contributors to any single act of creation—be it the brilliant magazine article, the memorable dramatic monologue, or exquisitely fine film edit. No creative person does it alone. Such a confession cultivates humility and gratitude, thwarting the prideful human tendency to ignore the contributions of others—be it our Lord or a forgotten middle school English teacher.

Secondly, God’s creative acts always reveal His creative wisdom–a wisdom characterized by an active desire to commune with His created audience. Trees in the garden were not only providing fruit, demonstrating God’s loving care for a hungry creation, but were also beautiful, demonstrating the Creator’s aesthetic brilliance (Genesis 2:9). Thus trees become invitations to commune with their Creator—giving thanks to God for their sustenance and visual delightfulness. Created light gave redemptive place for darkness, allowing for the wise cycle of work and rest, conscious effort and unconscious rejuvenation. And so, the created audience gives thanks. God’s acts of creation were fashioned with his earthly audience in mind, acts to wisely enhance communion with His creation. And so it goes–our creative acts as earthly creatures are to manifest divine wisdom, a wisdom characterized by a desire to commune with our audience.

Therefore, the creative work we seek to enhance at SAU always acknowledges the necessity of desiring communion with an audience. We don’t just create “for ourselves,” but also for an audience. This is not to say what we create will always be successful in doing this. Many of us will pen failed plays, insipid poems, or confusing marketing promotions. But it must not be because we had no regard for our potential audience.

Thirdly, “creativity” (the capacity for creating) and “being creative” (the act of creating) are never ends in and of themselves. From a biblical perspective, they are always to be seen as servants of caring love and justice. Undoubtedly, many creative geniuses contributed to the awe-inspiring display that was Babel’s Tower. A creative dance even delivered John the Baptist’s severed head. The theological systems that served Baal and induced Ashteroth poles required highly-developed, creative imaginations. Yet, creativity in these cases served a destructive end.

Therefore, the creative wisdom we seek to enhance at SAU always acknowledges the necessity of an informing ultimate purpose, a telos – all art has telos, or a specific end to absorb and direct our creative energies, passions, and visions. From a biblical perspective, such ultimate purpose includes holy communication and caring love.

Fourthly, when we say we want to cultivate “creative” communicators, we make no attempt to enforce an unbiblical hierarchy of value outlining the difference between “sacred” and “secular” themes or “high” and “low” art. The heavens and earth God created are filled with “good” things in each of the aforementioned categories. The Creator invites us to cultivate and mine the wisdom of His creation.

Therefore, the creative wisdom we seek to enhance at SAU always acknowledges the holiness of the good work of cultivation, whether it be fashioning sound waves to compose punk rock or opera, whether it be writing investigative essays about monks or masons, whether it be framing photographs of civil unrest or the tranquility of flower beds.