Today, on this Sabbath before the Feast of Tabernacles begins in St. Vincent, an elder I happen to have known for a few years (since we were both present in a foreign nation during the Days of Unleavened Bread) gave a split sermon message on celebrating the work of your hands. In the message, he commented on ways that we are to praise and celebrate the work of our hands and to appreciate God’s blessing of these works with quite a few scriptures, and he pointed out that he would not have given that particular message twenty years ago or so when it would have been associated with bragging or pride or something of that nature. What struck me is that this message dealt very much with the question of creativity and about the sort of ambiguity that tends to result from praising creativity given that we ourselves are creations that simultaneously create, and whether or not our creations are to be praised depends very much on the moral quality of those creations, which means that the Bible is neither hostile to the dignity of the creative person nor blindly in support of creativity, but always subjecting it to some kind of judgment.
This can be viewed from two directions. If one looks at the question of celebrating the works of one’s hands, or creative output, or some similar phenomenon from the point of view of the religious tradition I come from, the policy of praising some works of our hands in light of the Bible’s nuanced position marks a considerable improvement. This sort of improvement is likely to give at least some space for some kinds of creative thinking and behavior that was not present before and is undoubtedly a good thing for those of us who happen to be creative sorts of people. On the other hand, those who do not have such a background are likely to have far more permissive ideas about creativity and praising the works of their hands anyway, and are likely to think of submitting the works of one’s hands to a biblical standard of righteousness is immensely restrictive and negative. What is freedom for some people is intolerable restrictiveness by other perspectives.
This sort of problem has a great many consequences when it comes to understanding others or making ourselves understood by others. Those who are used to having great amounts of perceived freedom chafe under any restraints, while those who are used to having excessive restraint find even modest freedom a great improvement from their general experience. Beyond that, though, the Bible’s ambivalent position on the works of our hands helps to explain the general ambivalence to hostility that those who are interested in questions of creativity have towards biblical religion even apart from the corruption of human institutions that claim religious sanction. Most people who celebrate creativity and innovativeness are unwilling to accept limits to that creativity that are based on moral principles such as the avoidance of idolatry much less the need to give God the glory for having created us in His image, and therefore being the source of the creativity that we possess in the first place. And only those who are used to being under considerable restraint in regimes where creativity is viewed in a negative fashion are likely to appreciate guarded and partial praise of the works of our hands rather than the extravagant expectation that is more common.