Creativity and God

This was a devotion I gave to the South Carolina chapter of ACFW.

 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring’ (Acts 17:28).

As a writer, this verse is special to me. It crystallized in my mind why I get joy from writing stories. I imagine characters and stories for them. These characters become real people in my mind, who have dreams and aspirations, who make decisions, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but I love them because they are a part of me. They live and move and have their being inside me, in the same way that every person, along with this world we live in, lives and moves and has their being inside God. And since you are writers, I think it’s safe to assume you have had that same experience. There are entire worlds inside us that need us to give them expression in the world. And like God, words are the vehicle we have chosen to express it.

The Word was with God and the Word was God

It’s not much different from the creativity God exercised in making the heavens and the earth. God first imagined them, and then used words to bring it all forth into existence. This world we inhabit exists, we exist, because God is creative. And as humans made in God’s image, “his offspring,” God has given us the same creativity, and that is both thrilling and humbling.

Jesus writing in the sand

Creativity has always been important in communicating the Word of God to people who do not see its relevance for their lives. Think of the creativity Paul had to use as he spoke this verse. In the 17th chapter of Acts, he is speaking to a group of people in Athens. He wants to tell them that Jesus is the Messiah who was promised in the scriptures. But they are gentiles. The scriptures are Jewish. The Messiah is a Jewish hope. They worship many gods, but the God of the Bible is not one of them. To get them to listen, he first has to answer the ever-present unspoken questions, “So what? Why should I care?” How does he do that? He gets creative.

  1. He starts by talking about them – tactfully. “I see you are a very religious people,” he says. Even this statement is creative. If you read the whole chapter of Acts 17, you know what Paul really wants to say is, “I see you are a very idolatrous people.” Religious or idolatrous? Both words are honest, but one is much less negative. Creativity allows you to be tactful when it’s appropriate.
  2. He makes a connection with something they can see. He mentions an idol inscribed “to an unknown god,” and says, “That is the god I want to talk to you about.” With that, he has made a connection with their world. They know what he says now is relevant to them. But it’s still too soon to talk about scripture and messiahs.
  3. He continues with a theme that they are much more likely to respond to. He talks about one God who made all things and all people, Jews and gentiles. If he can convince them that the God of the Jews is their God as well, then they can see that the Messiah was sent for them and not just the Jews. Then they will listen to what he really wants to tell them.
  4. He even uses their own pop culture. In the verse we started with, he quotes two pagan poets. Notice in his whole speech, he does not quote one scripture. That seems counter-intuitive, considering that everything Paul said and did was rooted in scripture. Paul knows this audience doesn’t care about the scriptures. So he uses something from their own culture to point toward Jesus and the scriptures. If you can point and get them looking, you have a better chance of influencing them than if you quote sources that mean nothing to them.

There will be a time later for them to hear about Jesus as the Messiah. But for now, Paul is meeting them where they are, not where they should be. By the time he is finished, an audience has gathered around him. Some of them leave, but others say, “We would like to hear more about this.”

A lot of people say they don’t like Christian fiction because it’s too preachy. I have to admit I’m one of them. I think what people mean when they say that is it’s not creative. The characters are not fully developed, because the author did not get to know them. They are just props and mouthpieces for a sermon. If they aren’t real to you, they won’t be real to the reader. This makes me sad, because I think now more than ever, there is a gap between the Word of God and people’s understanding. Throughout the Bible, Paul, Jesus, the prophets, and the disciples used words and creativity to bridge that gap. As writers, words and creativity are our stock and trade, so we are in a unique position to bridge that gap.

Now I’m happy to say that in the last few years, I have found writers – some in this room, even – who are bucking that stereotype. They give the reader characters who talk and act like real people. They give them a compelling story with believable action that leads to a satisfying conclusion. They understand that in a story, the goal is to show your values, not tell them. They are learning the craft of storytelling and using it to maximize their God-given creativity. They use their stories to point, not to preach.

So let your characters live and move and be who they are. Tell their joys and sorrows, their tragedies and triumphs, or better yet, show don’t tell. If you do that, you are much more likely to make your readers say, “We would like to hear more about this.”

Let us pray.

Creator God, thank you for sharing your gifts of creativity and language with us. Help us to use it wisely, to tell good stories, to know the words you want us to share that will make our stories and characters come alive for our readers.

Further Reading

62 Bible Verses on Writing

Mark 4:40 – Where is your faith?

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

I’m reading from the Revised Standard Version. This verse comes from the story of Jesus calming the storm on the sea of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41). With so many translations available now, some words might be different, but this is basically how most of them read this verse. Occasionally, though, you find someone who wants their translation to stand apart, like one that says, Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?” (The Message).

As a writer, I look at that and say, “Wow, that’s powerful dialogue. It’s got some punch to it.” But as a follower of Jesus, I have to be honest, I don’t respond well to that kind of tone. It just reminds me of so many times when I was wracked with guilt for not having enough faith, which led to me thinking I was a coward, and of course, God does not bless cowards, which was why He wasn’t blessing me.

stock-photo-jesus-calms-a-storm-on-the-sea-41828683

A couple of weeks ago, Fran and I went to a baby shower at a friend’s church. The preacher was very good. She preached from this text – Yes, she was a woman, and with an accent that sounded Australian. Not what you expect to find in the boondocks of Abbeville County. Anyway, the version she read from said it this way: “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?”

I haven’t been able to find this translation. I guess I will have to go back to that church and see what they use as their pew Bibles. In her message, she pointed out that Jesus was not condemning or reprimanding the disciples. He was not berating them, saying, “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?” as that one translation put it. He did not even get angry at them for waking him up. Because if you remember, Jesus was in the bottom of the boat asleep, and they had to wake him up, saying, “Don’t you care if we perish?”

First, he calmed the storm, so they could hear him clearly. And then, the question was, “Where is your faith?” In other words, have you forgotten your faith? Have you forgotten who I am? And in the midst of the storm, it is so easy to forget.

Forgetting

I felt so good when I finally finished the manuscript for my novel. When I shopped it around to agents and editors, however, they weren’t exactly thrilled. And the most common and frustrating objection I kept hearing was they didn’t want multiple points of view. It’s too confusing.

Are you kidding me? I know there are bestsellers with multiple points of view. Some of my favorite authors use multiple points of view. How can you tell me multiple POV makes my novel unpublishable?

Those who use it are already bestsellers. And I’m not an established bestselling author.

I seriously considered reworking it to tell the story with two point of view characters. Maybe I could, but I don’t believe it would be as good a story if I did. And only one point of view character for the whole novel? Forget it.

Don’t you care if I perish?

So I turn to God like, “Why didn’t you tell me? How was I supposed to know they wouldn’t publish multiple points of view?”

I wrestle for weeks and months with what to do. Should I keep looking for that one publisher who’s willing to take a chance on me? Should I try to make a better query letter and book proposal? Or should I go through the daunting task of self-publishing it? Eventually, a conversation like this unfolded in my mind.

Do you believe God gave you this story? Yes.

Do you believe God would give you an unpublishable story? No. No. NO! God did not give me this story, knowing how long it would take, writing and rewriting every scene until I had it to where I thought it was good enough to publish, and had that confirmed from critique groups and friends and family, just to find out, “Sorry, the publishing industry has changed. No one is buying novels with multiple points of view anymore.” Agents and editors know a lot, but they don’t know everything.

So now what are you going to do? There must be a path to publication, and God knows what that is. I will seek, and I will find it.

Storms in the life of a creative

If you believe God has given you a gift of creativity, at some point you have to share that gift with the world. No matter how you decide to do that, there will be storms ahead. You may think you will never be as good as that writer you admire so much. You may get so many rejections that it will cause you to question every decision you’ve made in life. You may start a blog and after two years still have fewer followers than your shirt size, and then hear that Edie Melson’s blog has 900,000 followers and wonder what you’re doing wrong. You may hear God calling you to make this your career, and six months later you’re not even being paid enough to make rent or mortgage payments. And I could go on, but I don’t want you to lose sight of the hope offered in this story.

In these storms, do you hear Jesus saying, “Why are you afraid? Where is your faith?” To me, that is a gentle reminder that God did not send me out in this boat to drown in the storm halfway to the other side. It simply comes down to what everything in life seems to come down to: God saying, “Do you trust me?”

Now hear these words from Isaiah.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Is 43:2).

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