Humility, God and Creativity

Because the very mention of God is so loaded and puts people so on edge, I’m going to start with the shortest primer ever on the world’s longest subject:

God is not a spirit anymore than God is a carrot, a chunk of ice, or an airplane propeller.

Nor is God ephemeral energy, a celestial being, a he or a she. Everything we can possibly imagine, no matter how small or how lofty, is merely a created entity. God alone was not created; God is what’s known as a “first cause.”

Think of it this way: God is the only creator and everything else —including seraphs, skim milk, and the Dewy Decimal System, are all creations. But what does this have to do with creativity?

There is something fundamentally different about the way God creates: We humans don’t make anything at all; we amalgamate. We take previously created stuff and change its form. When God creates it’s entirely different. It’s something from nothing at all.

Illustration by Peter Himmelman

Illustration by Peter Himmelman

Take “David,” Michelangelo’s most famous sculptural work. Michelangelo didn’t create it; he merely shaped pre-existing materials into previously known forms. He took marble, chipped at it and fashioned it into the likeness of a man. That is to say, he took pre-created stuff and crafted it into the shape and form of something that already existed.Of course Michelangelo possessed an incredible, undeniable genius, but in terms of true creation —creating something from nothing, which is how God creates—even his magnificent “David” didn’t come close.

The same is true for Mozart, who wrote his “Symphony No. 40 in G Minor” by taking pre-existing notes, reordering them, and then by using different instruments with differing timbres to reshape pre-existing sound waves. Again, Mozart’s gift was beyond reckoning, but the music itself, the stuff of it; was not actually created by him, it was rather, refashioned.

The works of inventors and poets or any artists for that matter, however profound, are in fact, amalgamations, rather than actual creations. But why is this important? Why is it necessary to bring God into a discussion about creativity?I believe that maintaining an understanding that humans are shape-changers, rather than true creators, provides for humility, and that humility is the most propitious starting place for any creative endeavor.

Humility is what affords us with the mental space where creative ideas can first arise. Without it, our minds are a mess. Think of humility as a cleansing breeze that clears away the twin disrupters of all creativity: arrogance and fear.

True humility takes two forms. In one instance, the person who possesses it says, “ No matter how great my work is, I understand that in no way can anything I accomplish compare with actual creation, which is God’s alone.” To think otherwise would be hubris.

And in the other instance, the truly humble person knows that the deep fears they have about bringing their work into the world and which may ultimately thwart them from sharing their gift, are nothing more than hubris, as well.

It’s imperative that we are neither conceited or fearful when we begin the work of taking our nascent ideas into the world. Both are states of mind that are injurious to creativity and they derive from the same source—a misconception that we as creators can do anything more than reconfigure what God has already set before us.