Creation and Creativity

Stars superimposed over the image of a young man - showing the randomness of the universe

The Power of Speech

Christians and Jews often use a lectionary to choose readings for worship. This Sunday, Christians can choose to read from the very beginning of the Bible, where God creates the universe with words.

In the beginning, when God created the universe, the earth was formless and desolate. The raging ocean that covered everything was engulfed in total darkness, and the Spirit of God was moving over the water. Then God commanded, “Let there be light”—and light appeared.

Gen 1:1-3 Good News Translation

Then God speaks sky and land into existence. Words, you see, have power; creative power.

We see this, also, in the Gospel of John. He starts his story with “the Word” that has existed with God for all time.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

John 1:1-3 New King James Version

Other Translations

Because this scripture was originally written in Greek, and we are reading it in English, the above translation is not definitive. In the Phillips Bible, for instance, the chapter starts, “At the beginning God expressed himself.” The Good News Bible says it this way: “In the beginning the Word already existed.” Many others, such as the NIV, NRSV, and NASB, [1] continue the tradition of the King James Bible, reading: “In the beginning was the Word.”

It makes sense. Part of being human is expressing ourselves with spoken language. Images tell stories, of course. Cave paintings speak of hunts or battles. Cameras capture life in a snapshot that allows us to ponder moments, scenes, memories, ideas. Abstract art portrays meaning, sometimes with a depth beyond what words might convey, but so do the intricately rendered canvasses of a Rembrandt, a Wyeth, or an O’Keeffe. Mimes use movement to tell tales. And then there’s music, a conversation with sound that touches us deep in our bones. We are creative in so many ways.

Creation Stories

Perhaps that’s why human cultures evolved so differently, with so many unique creation stories. Take some of the tales compiled by Virginia Hamilton in her book, In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World.

She tells, for instance, of the Norse creation myth. In it, the land of Niflheim, was “made.” We do not learn how. It just appeared. Also in existence were Muspell and Ginnungagap, more lands that simply arose.

Creatures took on shape, too, not because something constructed them, but because the northern countries are cold. Everything was ice. Yet ice must melt, and drops of water began to fall from icicles, taking on the form of a man named Ymir, the ancestor of the frost giants. No god sculpted him. He simply took on life. Creation is a thing that is.

In the Norse story, no god exists until a cow, having evolved from dripping ice as did Ymir, licks a salt rime. From the salt emerges another man who has a son who has three sons of his own, and one of them is Odin, the most powerful of the Norse deities. The universe existed before the gods were even conceived. Perhaps that is why, at Ragnarök, the end of time, the gods will die, along with everything else. The Norse had their own understanding of what it meant to be divine.

According to the Greeks, the first gods came into being much as did the Norse lands. Gaia, for instance, arose out of the abyss. As the earth, she became the foundation of everything, yet other gods came into being in the same way. Tartaros became the land where dead souls go, Eros, the embodiment of erotic love, Erebos, was the dark, and Nyx, the night.

Imagining Everything

It wasn’t long, though, before this first generation of gods gave birth to more. Though Gaia gave birth without sexual congress, Erebos and Nyx made love, thus creating the air and the day. So it went, one god giving birth to another until Prometheus finally forged humans out of clay. His was an act as deliberate as Yahweh’s.

To sculpt humans, one must be able to imagine them, and though some gods needed hands and concrete materials to bring these images to life, not all of them did. The gods of the Wichita natives, for instance, Man-with-the-Power-to-Carry-Light and Bright-Shining-Woman, created everything they needed from their dreams. At night, they imagined. In the morning, they found their dreams had become reality.

You might say that the Chinese deity, Pan Gu, created everything out of dreams, as well. For 18,000 years, he slept and grew within an egg-shaped cloud. One day, he woke up and broke the shell, releasing the elements of the universe into space, allowing them to coalesce into everything that is. Maybe this essence was the stuff of Pan Gu’s dreams.

Regardless, the story sounds a little like our tale of the Big Bang. From the egg, or the singularity, all things arise. Yet maybe we can credit Pan Gu with a bit more volition than the matter that burst to make our universe. Did he not, after all, have a mind? At least the gods are like us in that way.

Yet, like the Norse gods, Pan Gu was mortal, and though he stabilized the heavens and the earth, he did finally die. Yet he did not leave the universe bereft. The goddess, Nü Wa, appeared. She continued where Pan Gu ended, and she formed people out of mud. [2]

Myths Evolve

The act of making humans out of clay is not unusual. The Quran teaches that God used clay to make men, as did the Yoruban god Obatala. The Sumerian gods mixed clay and blood to make us, while Prometheus, mixed dirt with water, and the Bornean spirits, Ara and Irik, made us by mixing clay with the sound of their voices. Even the Hebrew god, Yahweh, shaped the first man from the dust of the Earth, breathing life into him with His breath. [3]

As we see, myths evolve, and the same culture may have more than one creation story, such as the first chapter of Genesis in which Elohim created everything with his words and the next chapter in which Yahweh created Adam out of soil and Eve out of bone.

Yet no matter what kind of story we tell, nor whether life evolved on its own or was guided by a god, we use words to pass those stories on. So perhaps it is a bit ironic that when we English speakers declare that “in the beginning was the Word,” we’re not using the term the original author used. Instead, we are translating the Greek word “logos” which means so much more than “word.”

Logos is a way of understanding the world. According to the scholar, Oliver Tearle, the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, thought of logos as the rational principle underlying life. Over time, the Greek people began to understand it as the rational aspect of the divine.

Thus, Tearle suggests, “In the beginning was the Logos.” This could mean that once upon a time a God existed who embodied within himself, and then created outside of himself, “the rational principle on which everything is founded” [4]

Stars superimposed over the image of a young man - showing the randomness of the universe

God as the Rational Principle

In other words, God is the rational principle itself. God is that out of which the universe arose in an orderly, lawful manner. Or maybe God created the rational principle because we needed it to become what we became. Out of chaos comes order. From the elements of the universe—fire, water, earth, air, metal—arose life and death, stars and mountains, rivers and sand. Our universe holds together because electrons do what electrons do, because light provides warmth, and because water expands when it melts. That there are four dimensions and not ten makes life as we know it possible. [5]

So we exist not so much because a god made us as because God is the essence of order and rational intelligence. It is a scientific and orderly view of nature and of life itself.

For a culture whose gods were often jealous, petty, and revengeful, the idea of a logical, rational divinity might have had its appeal. It has an appeal even now. We humans are as immature as the Greek gods were. We, too, are ruled by greed and fear and a preference for comforting lies over disturbing truths. Thus, we murder one another and fight wars to gain power and wealth. We enslave and oppress others because we think superficial characteristics say something about our essence. We destroy the very habitat that sustains us. Is that not irrational? Perhaps we can benefit from believing in a god who provides us with order and unbreakable laws, like the ones of physics or chemistry or mathematics. On the other hand, we are quite adept at interpreting those laws any way we choose.

Creating Our Own Stories

Besides, not everyone agrees that rationality is a good thing. Even if we have moved beyond post-modernism, that time of relativity and deconstruction, when skeptics questioned the possibility of ultimate truth, many of us wonder if the body is not more sacred or the emotions more true than our thoughts. Logos is not everything.

Of course, John’s text might not be about a god of rationality. We can legitimately translate Logos as Word. Speech does have power, and we use it to create not just stories, but also ourselves. Why should a god not use language to make everything?

Unlike Yahweh, however, who created an entire universe all by himself, we do not create our stories on our own. Not that we are born as blank slates, but as our being emerges from the womb, we receive life–our essence–through the breath of others. We discover ourselves through their eyes. With ice and salt and mud, our minds and hearts are shaped. Did we learn, for instance, that were are sacred, beautiful, and capable, or did our families tell us we are hopeless, helpless, and incompetent? Out of the scraps of memory and fabrication that swirl around like chaos in our brains, we invent a life. What we believe about ourselves makes us who we are.

Divine in Our Own Way

Perhaps we are as creative as a god who makes all things from nothing, or perhaps not. Either way, our words and the meanings we give them, change us. Because of them, we may feel irrational emotions or attach importance to events that seem meaningless to others. It doesn’t matter. Our story feels real to us. Eventually, it solidifies until we cannot bear to accept any other truth, for a different truth would unravel us, forcing us to become someone else.

Yet sometimes life compels us to accept a new way to see, a new way to be. It’s never fun, but when events unravel us, when tragedies shatter our worldview, we sometimes fall apart and never find a way back to wholeness, but most of us arise anew, like Ymir emerging from melting ice. We come to see that reality is not what we thought it was, and we change. It is the way of existence. All things must change. Even creation; even the gods.

We tell so many stories about life and how it began. It takes a lot of creativity to come up with so many, and we’re not done. Every day, we come up with new stories. We learn something new about who we are and about what matters.

The words we string together are metaphors, ideas about ideas. Nonetheless, they communicate something, and as we come to believe them and claim them, they create us and the world we inhabit. In some small way, we, too, are divine.

In faith and fondness,



  1. New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, and New American Standard Bible.
  2. Hamilton, Virgina, In the Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World, San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988,, accessed May 30, 2023.
  3. See Creation of Life from Clay, Wikipedia,,humans%20from%20clay%20and%20wool.
  4. Tearle, Oliver, “The Meaning and Origin of ‘In the Beginning Was the Word,’” Interesting Literature,, accessed June 1, 2023.
  5. Counterbalance Foundation,,among%20both%20philosophers%20and%20theologians., accessed June 1, 2023.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

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