Theology and the creative impulse

The glib assertion that “God needs His creation as much His creation needs Him” is not a true analogy from the mind of the human creator. Nevertheless it is true that the urgent desire of the creative mind is towards expression in material form.
Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker

Did God have to make the universe? Well, if we are to speak of him as a Creator, then it is meaningless to do so without reference to his creation; our knowledge of God as a Maker is contingent on his making something. Poetry is simply poeisis, to make, to fashion; in Genesis we see God as a poet, ordering the chaos of the dark, primal sea. The important thing to remember, I suppose, is that this creativity is an integral part of his character, an aspect that cannot be separated from his love, his holiness, etc. He is not just a God who happened to make the universe on a whim, but his essence is that of a zealous and active Maker.

However, although our knowledge of him as a Creator is contingent on there being a creation, God himself does not “need” his handiwork. As Kallistos Ware points out in The Orthodox Way, when God created the cosmos, his action was not “purposive”; that is to say, he was not bound to create it from the “blueprints” necessitated by universal “forms” that even he must follow, as a certain type of Platonist might imagine. Instead, God created the universe in total freedom, working as an artist rather than an artificer or assembly-line worker. This ontological freedom to create meant that God was “bound” to create only by his own personality, his own character – which is to say, not bound at all, but Making out of the continual overflow and abundance of the Trinity. The Triune God is a Maker; thus he naturally and gratuitously makes.

There is a certain urgency to human artistic creation – the need to actualize, to call forth shape from the elements. Sometimes there is a manic urgency, a sort of relentless drive or otherworldly compulsion to paint, or sing, or dance that pushes away all inhibition (and procrastination). But more often, the “desire of the creative mind” must express itself slowly and deliberately, as a gradual hatching, a stripping away of layers. This is why the birth analogy is an apt one for both the painting and the cosmos; the passion (eros) and intensity, the urgency of the creative impulse is overwhelming and immediate, but the process of birthing the work in material form may be by its very nature long and difficult.

Like God, the artist does not “need” her art in the sense of ontological dependence; but she “needs” to enter into the artistic process in order to be true to her nature. Some people may have inclinations towards artistic expression buried deep within, aspirations that they have put aside; but to be true to their own identity they need to rekindle the fire. If we understand God to be a Maker in his truest nature, we can let our creative selves be quickened by the fire of the Spirit. Then our “urgent desire… towards expression” can be a spiritual and a material one, a poeisis after God’s own heart.


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