The Theology of Woodworking

I love woodworking. I have all my life. As a kid, I had my own Handy Andy tool chest (see Veritas) and built everything imaginable, including farming implements that could be attached to my old tricycle. Some of my favorite memories were related to doing woodworking of some sort with my dad – building hayracks and feed bunks, barn remodeling, etc. These pre-power tool days taught me to use a hammer and handsaw. Maybe I was predisposed to working with hand tools (again, see Veritas).

I keep saying that I should write a book on the Theology of Woodworking, but that has yet to happen. Then it occurred to me that a good start might be the writing of a related blog post(s). So, here goes…

The first thing that comes to mind is creativity. Everyone is created in God’s image as we know from the creation story (Genesis 1:26-27). Notice I said everyone – don’t miss the significance of that. Everyone means everyone – people we like and people we view as enemies. Billy Graham and Karl Marx. All humans were created in God’s image. That sets humanity apart from all the rest of creation (see Tov Meod).

What does it mean to be created in God’s image? As God’s culminating handiwork, we possess some of the same characteristics as God. God is a relational God and we are relational people. God is just and thus we hate injustice. I assume our love of music and humor comes from God. And, of course, God is a creative God, thus our creative nature. And we all possess a creative nature. We all have significant creative potential. How do I know that? Because…

We were created in God’s image and I have watched children at play

On the surface, creativity and woodworking seem to be at odds. Woodworking would appear to be a left-brained sport – math, science, geometry, and all that. As a structural engineer, one would think the left-brained challenges would be my favorite part of woodworking. But not so. I get a lot of satisfaction when I get to be creative.

I fully understand that some people are created with a left-brain leaning while others are blessed with a more active right brain. However, I suspect we were created with a more “balanced brain.” Then conditioning takes place, especially in western-thinking parts of the world. Not the same for eastern thinking. Westerners are focused on outcomes and feasibility. Easterners tend to be more at home with process and story. And we cannot lose sight of the fact that God’s story with humanity is rooted in eastern culture.

Conditioning can be fatal to creativity. Practical thinking* can snuff out creativity. Howard Hendricks, in his classic book Color Outside the Lines, describes what “snuffing out” looks like. He suggests readers jot down several comments about a child’s proposed wheelbarrow design…

If you are like me, your initial thoughts would primarily be negatively critical – things that would tell the child it’s ridiculous, not practical, and won’t work. Yes, conditioning can be fatal. From Hendricks…

Walt Disney, arguably among the most creative individuals America has ever produced, was drawing flowers in his elementary-school classroom. His teacher looked at his paper and remonstrated, “Walter, flowers do not have faces.” He answered, “Mine do!”

Fred Smith is the founder of FedEx. At Yale University he wrote a paper proposing a reliable overnight delivery system. His professor: “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn a grade better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.” Conditioning can be fatal!

I am extremely grateful as I think about what I get to do in my wood shop. It’s all about creativity. It helps me overcome my western conditioning. When my creative juices get going, I become a better image-bearer of God, the Creator. If I become a better image-bearer, I suspect that spills over to the world around me. “Blessed to be a blessing,” God’s covenant expectation of his people (cf Genesis 12ff).

The theology of woodworking? As a creature created in the image of the Creator, I get to use some of His creation (wood) to progressively become more creative.

* It’s not lost on me that I call this blog Practical Theology. Hmmm.

Tov Meod

Growing up on a farm, we had a dairy herd with a mix of registered and non-registered Holstein cows. My dad was on the cutting edge of dairy husbandry, locally and nationally. He served on the local Holstein Association board and on local and national levels of the Dairy Herd Improvement Association. I might have mentioned elsewhere that we received monthly computer printouts showing production, cost analysis, and mature potential for each cow, dating back to the mid-1960s.

The Holstein Association provides a classification system similar to academic grading. The herd owner pays a significant fee to have a “classifier” come to the farm to grade each registered cow. Even though a well-developed rubric is used, the process is a bit subjective. The classification categories are Excellent, Very Good, Good, and Fair. Excellent and Very Good classifications garner national attention, leading to a greater value of the cow, beyond just her production history. I noticed on the Holstein Ass’n website that there is a national “honor roll” of cows receiving one of these two classifications, as can be seen here. It’s a big deal! And we are only talking about cows.

Ever wonder how human value is classified/determined? Historically, we have created classification systems that separate out royalty, aristocracy, common people, serfdom, etc. (think Downton Abby). What about God? How does he classify humanity in the grand scheme of things?

Looking at the creation narrative (Genesis 1) we can see that at the completion of each of his creative activities, God saw that it was good (cf 1:10, 1:12, 1:18, 1:21). The Hebrew word for “good” is tov. God looked at his creation, calling it tov. We love God’s tov creation, which is one reason we so enjoy nature and national parks so much.

I love looking at images from the Hubble telescope. The Hubble was designed to peer deep into space, into this massive universe that God created. Here are a few fun images…

Our Galaxy – the Milky Way

The bottom Hubble image is a photo peering deep into the Milky Way, our galaxy. Scientists estimate the Milky Way to be 100,000 light-years in diameter and 20,000 light-years thick (keep in mind that a light-year is approximately 6 trillion miles), consisting of a couple billion stars. And there are several billion such galaxies in this universe that God saw as good, tov.

Looking further into the Genesis 1 creation story, we find the description of the creation of humanity…

Right now I don’t want to focus on the “in our image” portion – that’s a whole nother conversation. What’s of importance here is the fact that the narrative repeated three times that God created humans. Something to know about Hebrew poetry: Anything stated is worthy of our attention. If stated twice, then more so. However, anything repeated three times is exponentially more important. We should lean in and take heed. Repeated three times is an indicator that the creation of humans far outweighs the creation of the rest of the universe, as beautiful and grand as it is. We are of great value!

After the completion of humanity, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Very good in Hebrew is tov meod. Only after the creation of humanity did God describe his creation project as very good, tov meod. Apparently, as the pinnacle of his creation, we are exponentially more valuable to God than the rest of creation. Or as someone reminded me 40 years ago…

As a creation of God’s, my worth is a given. There’s nothing I can do to gain more worth or to lose my worth – tov meod news!