Working like God

In the opening chapters of Genesis humanity’s dignity and pride of place in creation is affirmed – we are described as being “in God’s image”. We are also created to be workers, whose job is to rule over other creatures and till the land. In some sense, we might say we are “co-creators”. We establish and maintain order as God did and does, making it possible for life to flourish as God intended.

If we are indeed created in God’s image and to be workers, what might work in God’s image look like?

Firstly, it could suggest that work is something that is done in community. God as Trinity is one but also “communal”. Human beings are in God’s image together as men and women, not simply on our own.

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27, ESV, emphasis added)

Similarly, humans are not designed to function as islands, but to be together:

“The Lord God said, “It isn’t good for the man to live alone.”” (Genesis 2:18, CEV)

So, perhaps the first thing we might say about working in God’s image is that it means work should not always or primarily be viewed as something we do on our own. It is important for people to work together and to understand that the greatest tasks we have been given by God can only be fulfilled corporately. We all have individual parts to play, but work is healthier in community of some kind (e.g. in teams).

Secondly, the creation account of Genesis 1 suggests very strongly that God is a God of order. He assigns each element of His creation a particular place and role, bringing a sense of order out of the primeval chaos. The God of the Bible is not chaotic.

This suggests that some structure to our work is useful. We should be establishing and maintaining order in this world and need structure ourselves to do so. This is not a rigid, inflexible order that stifles, but one that enables creation to flourish. Chaos and randomness are not God-like qualities, so working like Him would involve some sense of bringing about a benevolent order that benefits all.

Thirdly, God is a creative God who brings about new things and enables His creatures to flourish. This might suggest that our work could and should involve creativity in various forms. We can bring “new things” into being, whether they are ideas or objects, following in the creative footsteps of our God.

Work that removes all possibility of creativity is, therefore, dehumanising. If we are simply cogs in a machine, slaves to procedures, not allowed to think outside the box or do anything other than repeat what we have always done, we will not be acting in God’s image and be fully human.

So, we might say that healthy work environments require (amongst other things, this is not an exhaustive list!) some degree of communal/team work, a sense of order and structure as well as the freedom to be creative.

What do you think? Is this your experience of work? When one or more elements are missing, how has it affected your work?

© Joe Lenton, October 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part One – Form & Creativity

Over the coming weeks I hope to post a few ideas about praying with the Bible. Today’s focus is on the topic of form and creativity.

Are you creative? Chances are, if you are made in the image of a creative God the answer is “yes”. Perhaps you might not think of yourself as creative because you think it means “arty”, but there are many forms of creativity. What form our creativity takes reflects who we are as individuals and our personalities. Some are better with words, others with pictures, others with music, still others with food, carpentry, flower-arranging, finding novel solutions to problems, etc. Prayer is an intrinsic part of the Christian life and it can be enriched by finding creative ways of praying.

The Psalms provide us with a wide variety of forms. They have long been recognised as prayers that may be said or sung. This suggests that we might bring music into play in our prayers – turning them into songs, perhaps, or using music as a backcloth to set a mood, for example. Even if melody or harmony is not used, we might still find rhythm helpful – whether it is a rhythm behind the words, like a poetic “meter”, or the rhythmic repetition of something akin to Psalm 136 (“…His love endures forever” at the end of each line).

The variations of poetic forms in the Psalms might provide creative inspiration for new forms of written or spoken prayers. Some use an “acrostic” pattern – starting each new line with the next letter of the alphabet. Others take us through a transformation from dark to light moods. There are no set rules about how a Psalm must always be written – the authors have exercised their creativity. By imitating them in this regard, we can find new ways of praying familiar themes. This can help relieve boredom in prayer and bring a freshness to our thinking.

It doesn’t have to be poems, though. Creative form can vary greatly. Paul’s letters often include sections that are prayers of some sort, e.g. Romans 16:25-27. We might even wonder if the stories of Jesus collected into John’s Gospel are perhaps a kind of prayer – “these things are written that you may believe (and go on believing)…” (John 20:31). Is John offering his narrative/”biography” as a “prayer”?

Sometimes we just want to speak to God quickly and naturally; we don’t always have time to try something else or aren’t always feeling in a creative mood. Yet, occasionally, it might be worth spending some time crafting our words carefully, focussing on bringing out what we really want to express. This can be a gift of worship to God – a bit like a letter or poem to a loved one. It can enable us to express emotions and ideas more deeply and personally. It might also be something that could help others with their prayers – our creativity is not just something between us and God. Others can benefit from our prayers, perhaps by being inspired to be creative themselves or by connecting with the experience and emotion of our words/pictures/music.

Have you ever tried to write a prayer down before? If not, why not have a go? Try writing it like a letter or a poem, for example. You could take a particular passage such as a Psalm and have a go at doing your own version. Especially if you are finding prayer a bit hard or dull at the moment, I would encourage you to use something of whatever creative skill God has planted in you to enable you to connect in a new way.

A few prayers based on Scripture can be found on the Going Deeper With God website. The prayer based on Psalm 145 is particularly relevant to this post. These prayers are not offered as models showing “the right way” to do things, but as examples of one person’s attempts to connect creatively in prayer. I hope they may encourage you.

© Joe Lenton, July 2012