God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ ”
What is our purpose as human beings? Why did God make us? Why are we here on earth? These defining questions provoke philosophers and theologians to probe the depths of human significance. But, also, they stir within each of us in a personal way. What is my purpose as a human being? Why did God make me? Why am I here on earth?
Scripture provides us with a variety of answers to these questions. Our purpose is to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). We were made to love God and our neighbor (Mark 8:28-31). God has created us anew in Christ to do the good works he has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). We are to offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). We are to make disciples from all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). You might add to this collection of verses from Scripture those that guide your life in a special way.
Genesis 1:28 gives us the very first biblical answers to our defining questions of life. We learn that human beings were created in God’s image so as to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . . .” Theologians sometimes refer to this collection of imperatives as the “cultural mandate” (or the “creation mandate”). God created human beings so that we might make, shape, and steward culture.
This language can be a little confusing because we tend to use the word “culture” to refer to fine arts and literature, to classics and late night TV, to everything from Bach to the Beatles. Yet, the phrase “cultural mandate” employs the word “culture” in a broader sense. As Andy Crouch writes in his outstanding book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, “Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name for our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else” (Kindle 191-192).
This effort is not something we human beings invented. It was built into our original DNA and affirmed by God’s first instruction to us. Why are we here on earth? What is our purpose? God answers this question in the beginning by giving us the earth and our bodies and telling us to make people and culture. We are to take the world and make something more of it.
This cultural mandate in Genesis 1:28 reminds us that everything we do matters to God. In particular, our daily work matters because it is (or can be, at any rate) a way of obeying the first imperative of Scripture. When we take the world as it is given to us and help to make something more of it, and when this more is consistent with God’s purposes, then we are doing exactly what God intended for us from the beginning.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
In what ways in your life do you take the world as it is given to you and make more of it?
How are you living out the cultural mandate in your work? In your volunteer work? In your family life? In your city?
Thank you, gracious God, for creating us with such potential. Thank you for making us in your image. Thank you for giving us the “cultural mandate.” Thank you for entrusting your world to us.
Help me, Lord, to live out the cultural mandate faithfully in every part of my life. May I see my work as a way of honoring you and contributing to your work in the world. Be glorified today in all I do. Amen.
P.S. While Mark is on vacation for two weeks in August, we are running “greatest hits” devotions from the past year. New devotions will return on August 26. This devotional was originally published on May 14, 2015.