Already but Not Yet: Creativity, Depression, and the Kingdom of God

Some thoughts spurred on from Robin William’s tragic death. For other thoughts on depression — specifically my own battle with it — see one of my previous posts.

“My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.” Edvard Munch

Psychologists Paul Verhaeghen, Jutta Joormann, and Shelley N. Aikman recently conducted some research to determine the causation between creativity and depression – i.e., can depression cause creativity (Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Vol.8 (2) US : American Psychological Association pp. 211-218.). The examination between these two things is by no means new, but they were hesitant of previous findings that reported depression caused creativity. If depression depresses the desire to do, to make, to live, how then can depression itself enable and facilitate creating and doing?

To differentiate themselves from other studies, they look at what foundationally leads to both creativity and depression. They essentially boil it down to this: rumination. Stated another way, self-reflection. But, they break it down even a bit further. They decide rumination associated with depression is brooding (self-criticism) while rumination associated with creativity is positive self-reflection (true self-knowledge).

They conducted their research on a handful of college students (I’m no psychologist so I’m not sure if this is or isn’t a perfect system/sample. Nonetheless, it is interesting.) and determined the rumination associated with depression, in fact, does NOT lead to creativity. Only positive self-reflection leads to creative expression. Yet, they admit, if one tends toward the positive self-reflection, one might also tend toward brooding. They are likely interrelated.

So, essentially, depression does not lead to creativity, but someone who is creative, has a tendency toward dysphoria.

Over the past few years, I have come to believe as Gregory Wolfe believes,

…that authentic renewal can only emerge out of the imaginative visions of the artist and the mystic…Just as Christians believe that God became man so that He could reach into, and atone for, the pain and isolation of sin, so the artist descends into disorder so that he might discover a redemptive path toward order.

If the renewal of our world in Christ is to come through beauty, creativity, the arts, what then do we make of the brooding? The depression? The darkness that sometimes leads to death?

Our very nature, in faith and in life, is paradoxical. A bunch of seeming contradictions, somehow, someway, holding all things together in a perfect, unknowing, disparate wholeness. God brought life through the death of his Son. We gain fullness of life when we lose our life. Our gift of leadership oftentimes leads to abuse of power. Our intellect can be used to oppress. Naturally, there are positive and negative ramifications to the paradoxes of life.

Our mandate to create, to participate in our created image, can lead to depression. What makes man uniquely man in comparison to his animal counterparts? His ability to create something out of nothing for the sake of beauty, just as the Creator did when all he created was “good”; to bring order out of the chaos and to bring life out of the darkness, the formless, and the void. Being created in the image of God, yet undoubtedly fallen, produces a horrible and terrible paradox which leads some of our most creative to fall under the very curse of their creative genius. The creative work brings life – something out of nothing – yet, in extreme cases, causes death. The very best and worst of life bound up in a solitary act, an act meant for worship, yet sometimes ending in shame.

Such is life in the kingdom of God which is already but not yet – where we strive and pray for the freedom from brooding and for the freedom to self-reflect, yet the tension still remains; where we hope artists renew our time through the creative act, yet all the while risking the inverse affects. In our hopeful hopelessness, we are compelled to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
   hallowed be your name,
   your kingdom come,
   your will be done,
   on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
   as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
   but deliver us from the evil one…

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