Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Several things in life can launch a search for ultimate meaning. Two facets of that search are the quest for identity (“Who am I?”) and the discovery of purpose (“Why am I here?”). Our human tendency to create is an excellent doorway for entering that search and exploring the answers to those two questions.

The fact that toddlers naturally become amateur creators, before ever pondering questions of identity or purpose, partially answers both questions. If human creativity is inborn, it points toward an answer to who or what humanity is. This relationship of creativity and being is best illustrated in a two-step process experienced by very young humans.

In the first step, when infants start recognizing that their hands belong to them and can function under their control, they start moving and manipulating other objects in the world, things that they learn are not a part of them. If babies could articulate this profound lesson philosophically, they might say, “I and the world around me are not synonymous. I can do things I want to it, and it can do things to me I don’t want. Ouch! That steel pole is hard!” This is why only adults who forget childhood wisdom pretend to lose their personal identities in pantheism: “I and the metal pole am ONE. The lump on my head from running into it while meditating must be maya, just an illusion....”

The lesson children learn naturally is profound, because it verifies their existence, their being. Descartes was close, when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” But his idea needed the help of later existentialist philosophers who said, “I do, therefore I exist.” A positive response to the question of individual being, “Do I exist?” is easily demonstrated by a small child: “See that toy block. Watch! I’m putting it on top of another one. There, see? Who did that? I did! I exist! I am!" Such young logic lays the “am” groundwork in the question “Who am I?” But the “who” of individual identity needs further definition. This leads to the second step.

Manipulating the world, through moving toy building blocks around, is rudimentary creativity. As humans grow, they become more skillful at it, utilizing other media. Architects stick with blocks, but get more sophisticated at stacking them. Painters keep improving in how they push wet pigment around; sculptors, in how they shape clay or stone; writers, in how they shuffle words into poetry, plays, prose, and political speeches. Thoughtful observation of this creativity in almost every example of human work makes it obvious that no one arranges building blocks in exactly the same way. We may imitate other creators, but there’s always some personal uniqueness, even in how we copy them.

While the search for identity may last from the cradle to the grave, the effects of it outlives us, as we touch others with our personal uniqueness and individual creativity. The truth crystallized in John Donne’s “no man is an island” means that, as individuals, we are making history now and will remain a part of history afterwards. Our creativity is important; it counts. But counts for what? Why is it important? What’s the purpose? “Why am I here?

Perpetual “Why” questions on youngsters’ lips can drive parents crazy. In this world where “no man is an island,” they see myriads of creative works by other individuals. “How” questions may gain answers about the way things were made or their manner of operation, but kids go on to ask, “What’s it for? Why was it made?” These questions seek the goal, the purpose, the objective. Human works of creativity—sometimes alone but more often in a concerted effort—are meant to accomplish or provide something. Creative work says, “I’m not just unique as a person, but my individuality makes an important contribution.”

This two-step process in simple, youthful logic offers one possible explanation for Jesus saying, “Let the little children come to Me... for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” (Mat 19:14, NKJV). Their little feet are on the right track. If our individual, purposeful creativity points to ultimate meaning, then there must be a Creator with personal individuality Who has an important purpose for all of His massive creativity in this gigantic universe.

The One whom the Bible calls “Maker of heaven and earth” has personally identified Himself by the name “I AM.” Our human identity crisis ends when we allow the great “I AM” to answer our question, “Who am I?” Basically His answer is: “You are an image of Me. You are My image-bearer.” Our significance as individual creators finds ultimate meaning by trusting that our Creator,  the Maker of all things, individually designed each one of us exactly as He did. “Why are we here?” Our unique, purposeful creativity is a result of His. And when our discovery of His unique, purposeful creativity ends our search for ultimate meaning, it will open us up to an eternal exploration of that meaning. Then we’ll answer Descartes and the other philosophers. “I am, therefore I think! I am, therefore I do!”

I want to conclude with a poem. It’s a favorite of mine, and never seems old or boring to me. You see, everything I’ve said above is not hypothetically contrived but authentically realized. God made me on purpose, and within that purpose was poetic creativity. More than that, He has let me know numerous times that I’m writing for Him and for others, and not just for myself. As far as I'm concerned, that immortalizes my creative effort. So I never tire of it myself or tire of sharing it with others. See if it speaks to you:
Someday you’ll compose a song or sing one very well,
Feel a thrill of satisfaction in a tale you tell,
Draw a picture, paint a portrait, shape a lump of clay,
Plan and build a dream-house, act a part within a play,
Plant a lovely flower garden, set a gem in gold,
Cut and piece and sew an outfit new and sharp and bold,
Tinker to invent a gadget saving people time,
Write an essay or a story set in prose or rhyme,
And, while feeling fresh fulfillment where you have achieved
In the goal of each ambition by your mind conceived,
You will pause when all about you birds are singing, too,
Wind is whistling, stars are shining, everything you view
Whispers softly hints behind them of a happy Mind,
As if all that is around you stands both sealed and signed
By a Person, Great Designer, One you imitate
When you follow yearnings to be skillful and create.
— David L. Hatton, 2/22/1992
(from Poems Between Darkness and Light ©1994, 2014)