Imagination involves releasing human potential
This letter is for my friend Greg Gallagher, whose commitment to loving and helping others is unparalleled.
You believe in people. You see people and perceive that there is more there—latent, under the surface, roiling in the depths—than they realize. You know people need encouragement, instruction, and love in order to thrive.
And you do everything in your power to make sure they get it.
In this way, you are most like God. You “call into being things that were not,” knowing human potential is best released through the strength of others.
That’s always been true for me, and I think for you as well.
I have often joked about my limitations as a woodworker. I’m more of a carpenter ant than a carpenter, more termite than tool man. But imagine what life must have been like in Eden, before anything had been invented. God created the garden, but we receive no indication that God created the means of taking care of Eden other than providing the first human family. Which means Adam and Eve would have had to invent everything. They had to conceptualize the tools they required, craft those tools, then apply those tools to the tasks at hand.
It takes a special quality for someone to even dream, let alone have the capability to turn a tree into a kayak or a stone into a kiln. The first time someone wound a string lengthwise across an open box and decided to make music must have felt like a miracle of ingenuity. But to craft complex stringed instruments, to arrange the composition of the music, and to appropriate that music for celebration, liturgy, and festival would have required incredible concept.
In Genesis 4 and 5 we’re given a powerful survey of the application of art, manufacturing, craftsmanship, science, and architecture because of released human potential. Part of shadowing God, then, is the imaginative work of fixing and making, the creative application of competence to ideation.
The words “culture” and “cultivate” derive from the same root, colere, which means both “inhabit” and “tend.” We tend to that which lives in the ground; we tend to that which lives in ourselves and in our world. We are cultured, and we create culture. This, in my mind, is what’s so misplaced about the idea of a culture war. We aren’t meant to change the culture, but to create it. The more we invest ourselves in our God-given mandate to inhabit this world and tend to ourselves in it, the more the world will be transformed with acts of creative goodness.
God is first revealed to us as a Creator, and we are made by him to be like him. We are creators, also, and we participate with him in the ongoing work of Creation.
But there is another element to all this creative work in Eden, one that gets to the foundation of why God created anything in the first place. Why does God want us to create? Because it brings him glory. By expanding Eden, we would allow others to come into close proximity with God’s presence, thus allowing them to also experience God. The untamed wilderness, now tamed, must acknowledge that it has been tamed by God’s people working in God’s way on God’s tasks.
God’s original intent was for us to build society for his glory. Our ancestors were meant to put the finishing touches on the world God created by making it a livable place for human beings in order to glorify God.
Part of the biblical story involves extolling names. “Great is the Lord,” says the psalmist, “and his name is worthy to be praised.” “The concept of name in the scriptures has to do with reputation, character, honor, recognition, distinction. Interestingly, just a few verses later, God gives Abram his promise to “make your name great,” just as he later does with David—but this is on God’s own terms, and in a way that brings him glory. God often in scripture makes it clear that he alone will receive glory, that he is making a name for himself—“an everlasting name.”
Once we release the tremendous potential stored within us, we must be careful to steward that energy. We’ve got to be sure to help people become icons—people who show others God’s glory—rather than idols—people who hoard God’s glory for ourselves.
I’ve always found this to be a difficult balance to strike in my creative work. I want to grow, to develop, to do more, to experience more, to outdo myself and my previous efforts, but I’m always forced to ask if I’m making a name for myself or extolling the name of God?
How do we continue in our priestly work as guardian-caretakers of earth? How can we resist the promise of fame and glory for ourselves?
I think you know the answer. I think you’re the one who helped me understand it. Our true humanity is godly. We become the best possible versions of ourselves by allowing Christ to grow in us. We find ourselves in him, and the more glory he receives, the more we get to enjoy.
 Romans 4.17.
 Psalm 96.1.
 Psalm 145.3.
 Genesis 12.2; 2 Samuel 7.9.
 Isaiah 63.12; Exodus 14.17-19; Nehemiah 9.10; Daniel 9.15.
 Jon M Dennis, Christ + City: Why the Greatest Need of the City is the Greatest News of All (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 40.