According to creative hermeneutics, the depth of God’s sacred, creative image in human beings goes “all the way down;” we are creative beings no matter what we create. By choosing to eat the apple, Adam and Eve created a new identification for themselves, the world, and God, but they still created it (even if, perhaps, unwittingly). Therefore, creative hermeneutics interprets the remainder of the biblical narrative as the product of human and divine co-creation. Is this any surprise for a book about God, written by men? From this perspective, God is not purely in control of the relationship God had with the Israelites and New Testament Christians; they also shaped how they defined and interacted with God, which was their nature as creative beings.
Think of the sacrificial system through which Israel worshipped God, and the myriad times God spoke in the Bible through a prophet to the effect of “I didn’t want sacrifices” (also think of the time Israel demanded a king). It is in this vein of thought that many progressive Christians have attempted to understand the imperial conquests of Israel related in the Biblical text. Whether we like it or not, or have forgotten, we create the world alongside God because we are reflections of the divine. Even though Adam and Eve chose to believe that they were different than the God, and acted accordingly, the fact that they could make that choice and become what they chose to be points to their inability to escape their creative power. Human beings are creative beings, according to creative hermeneutics, whether we purposefully embrace that creativity or try to forget it. We may embrace our creative powers or shun them, but to choose to ignore our creativity is its own creative choice we make, whether it is made consciously or not. Even to “not-choose, ” as some philosophers are fond of pointing out, is to make a choice; so to choose to obey, rather than to create, is still an act of creation.
Therefore human beings are both human – biological, finite, temporal, spatial beings with 23 pairs of chromosomes – and divine – sacred and creative – just as we often take Christ to be. We are, therefore, “Christ-like.” Our great sin – the sin of Adam and Eve – has been to take something, whether it be Christ, God, gods of wealth, fame, or something else, and set it up to be more important than ourselves. We insist on denying our divine natures, on denying our sacred value and creative power, and set up idols to worship as we denigrate ourselves. We set up these idols because we do not believe that we are already “like God, ” and bear God’s image as sacred, creative beings. We’ve disbelieved our divine nature for so long that we’ve locked ourselves into a single nature – that of the distinctly “finite” or “human” – the created, the sinful, the imperfect, the servant. These are all in some form or fashion true, or at least they can be true, but we have made them the totality of our selves. We have forgotten the divine, the sacred, creative image of God that burns at the center of every human being along with our finite nature. We are not either/or; we are both/and. We might say it like this: to be a human be-ing (to borrow an expression from James K. A. Smith) is to be both human (finite) and divine (sacred and creative).
To find God, then, we can begin to look within ourselves, to learn to listen in the quiet spaces of our hearts rather than searching for God in intellectual and theological gymnastics. We can learn about God from ourselves, and from others, and from all life; life, which is essentially the act of creation and recreation over time. This is not to say that God is not a being of some sort; it is to say that the witness of the early chapters of Genesis, interpreted from the perspective of creative hermeneutics, is that God is creative, and life is creation. God/life is all around us, and we are created in God’s likeness, sacred and creative. We do not have to look elsewhere to define ourselves, to learn “whom we should be, ” as the interpretation of the bible from the vantage point of ethical hermeneutics would have us do. We can find God within.
The inward turn taken by individuals like Brother Lawrence, Teresa of Avila, Henri Nouwen, and the Desert Mothers and Fathers led them to a place of darkness, the void of the self unknown. There they experienced the burning fire of God deep inside themselves. Once we’ve paused to trace the curling smoke trail of feeling, of sense, of intuition, and of deep desire to the smoldering embers of ourselves, we can begin to stoke its flames. This creative flame burns in all of us, but we don’t live in a culture that encourages us to look for it, so it’s easy to overlook or ignore. To exist, to live, to create: these are all synonyms in the framework of creative hermeneutics. The “I am” of God in the Hebrew bible could just as easily be read, “I exist, ” “I live, ” or “I create.” It simultaneously tells us nothing and everything about God and ourselves.
This post is an excerpt from Tim’s new book: Holy Immoral – the Creative Image of God in All of Us (Only $.99 on Kindle!)