Entrepreneurship is vital. I don’t think anyone would deny that. Much has been said about the importance of entrepreneurship in the economy. As the Kauffman Foundation notes on its site, “Entrepreneurs renew society by constantly looking for opportunities to make products, institutions and practices better.”
But let’s take the discussion a step beyond utilitarianism and ask if entrepreneurship is more than just a useful activity. Could it be deemed a necessity? Or even something divine? At first that sounds like a stretch, but bear with me. Last month at the NFRA convention I made a brief allusion to this notion in my speech, “The Moral Case for Capitalism.” In contrasting the free market with command economies, I noted that capitalism “disperses power, uses a decentralized marketplace, protects property rights, and allows humans—who are made in the image of their Creator—to be creative.” While I stopped short of unpacking this concept in my speech, I think it merits some additional thought.
To explore this concept further, let’s hit rewind and go back in time. Way back. To the first chapter of Genesis and the biblical story of creation. Now, I’m going to avoid any discussion of the inerrancy of the Bible in this post, and I won’t wade into questions of intelligent design vs. evolution, or bicker over the authorship of Genesis. Let’s save those issues for another day. Instead, let’s look at what the first book of the Torah—one of the most important works in human history—is telling us about God and humanity, and see if we can derive a few takeaways from this ancient text that apply to entrepreneurship.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good…
And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so….And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so…. And God saw that it was good. (Gen. 1: 1, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12)
The first thing we learn about God from the above passage is that he is a creator. The Bible talks about many other attributes of God, but his role as creator is the first divine quality presented in the Torah. The author felt this was so significant that it was the first quality chosen to convey about the Monotheistic Deity of the Jewish people. Power, wrath, or a demand for allegiance would have been common attributes to ascribe to a deity in a pre-modern religious cult because they conveyed legitimacy to the human authorities claiming to be that god’s representatives. But Genesis starts us off with a different perspective—God as creator and life-giver.
The second thing that we learn about God is that he views his creation as good. He takes satisfaction in what he brings into existence and declares it sufficient. The created world was distinct from God, meaning its purpose was to exist as separate from God but in concert with his divine plan. (The significance of Genesis distinguishing between creator and creation cannot be overstated—this distinction would ultimately help liberate humanity from the superstition of pantheism and lead to the development of science.)
So right off the bat, Genesis paints God as a creator and says what he creates is good. God is the universe’s first entrepreneur, and the universe is his venture.
Mankind then enters the narrative, and the first thing we are told about humanity is no less significant: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:27) Men and women are both described as beings made to resemble God, the ultimate proof of their intrinsic value. In the verses that follow (1:28-29), they are given what is called the “cultural mandate,” stewardship over the earth and the instruction to populate it and build societies.
In sum, humanity is made in God’s image. God is the creator, and he creates good things. Therefore men and women are meant to be creators, and create good things.
What are the implications of this? First of all, I’d say it doesn’t mean that being an entrepreneur makes you better than other people, or that godliness is conveyed to those who create companies. I’m pretty sure you can be a founder and a jerk. But it does suggest that being creative, bringing things into existence, is part of our nature.
Also, we can create things that are good, just as God’s creation was good. I understand this to mean that we can make things that improve the world around us. I think this fits into the story the Bible is telling, too. Genesis goes on to describe the fall of man, which introduces pain and death into the world and distorts humanity’s relationship with God and each other. This creates suffering, which I think gives extra urgency to the cultural mandate. We need to build things that make the world better, and hopefully mitigate some of the brokenness that came from the fall.
This isn’t to say that humans can undo the effects of sin or construct a utopia here on earth. Genesis makes it clear (here and here) that God will ultimately fix what is broken in his startup. But I think the Bible does suggest that we can mitigate the effects of sin by carrying out the cultural mandate and emulating our creator. What does this look like in everyday life? Well, for entrepreneurs I’d say that it means striving to create companies that give people jobs, deliver valuable products and services, develop new technologies, and reward investors (who can then reinvest in new companies).
Entrepreneurship can therefore be understood as something programmed into us, a reflection of the creator’s spark that can play a role in making the world a better place. There are other outlets of being creative, of course, and not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. But the Genesis account suggests that bringing a new organization into existence is more than just a utilitarian exercise; it’s a trait whose origins can be traced back to the beginning.