Ability and Responsibility
Finding the place where creativity and life flourish.
God’s commission to humans in Genesis 1:28 is often referred to by theologians as the “culture mandate.” It is the special task that the Creator gave His people, the task of tilling and keeping the earth (Gen. 2:5), of joining with our maker in the work of making. Not exactly like Him but with Him and by Him. Humans can’t create ex nihilo (out of nothing), that’s God job, but He gave us the necessary ingredients to make something of the world. Humans didn’t create medicinal herbs but we used them make medicine. We didn’t invent blue, but we did create mediums to capture it’s essence. Using the gifts of God, to creatively and carefully build on the foundation God laid, is the job of culture making.
The task of culture making requires two things that may seem trivial but prove crucial for understanding and stewarding our gift — ability and responsibility.
Ability is the power to make something of the world, the power to steward God’s gifts, and seek the flourishing of the world around you. Ability is the use of our hands and disposable thumbs. Ability is the creative consciousness to dream, plan, and collaborate. Ability is the chance to walk with the Creator in intimacy in the morning dew of the garden. Ability is the power to fulfill the culture mandate, to know the creator, to love the other — it is the gift of image bearing.
Ability is power, but how you wield power is responsibility.
The culture mandate is a responsibility to make something of the world, to take what God has given us and push it to its full potential. Responsibility is the job of inventing, building, taming, and producing to the glory of God and the good of others. It’s the call to cultivate well, to steward power, and preserve the earth’s resources for generations to come. Responsibility is using ability and power in a way that maximizes joy and goodness — it is the work of image bearing.
It’s not sexy to talk about it, but rules, responsibility, and structure are necessary for true thriving. We may hate the “rules of the road” but for the most part we understand their purpose. If everyone drove like a leash-less rage monster we’d never get anywhere. Good “rules of the road” enable movement and health. That’s why good rules exist, not to restrict, but to enable something better.
Good “rules” are necessary for any good and beautiful undertaking. For you to read this, I had to submit my ideas to the rules of English. I had to acknowledge syntax, grammar, and symbols. Syntactical restrictions liberate my ideas from the dome of my skull and allow them to enter yours. Without the rules of the English language my ideas are trapped. This is true of all art, if it is to be experienced, it has to be submitted to a set of rules, restricted of certain freedoms, so that it can be truly liberated.
In the 1950’s the art scene was overcome by a brand new type of painter. He didn’t succumb to the constructs of old faux pas brushes. No, this man was a dancer who whirled paint across the canvas with sticks, causing a storm of color that created huge works of fractal-patterned texture. Jackson Pollock’s art was a sensation. It was so modern, so cutting edge. Holding it altogether however was a piece of convention and tradition that liberated Pollock’s work and carried it to the public eye. It was the canvas. Pollock had all the ability in the world, but it never would have mattered if it wasn’t submitted to the limit and rule of the canvas.
True art happens when creativity and ability converge with submission and responsibility.
But, what happens when ability and responsibility are separated, one overcoming the other?