Discover Your Purpose
This first chapter of the Bible reminds us of our origin (where we came from), purpose (why we were created), and reality (who we are). In reading the creation narrative, it is wise to remember that you were created for a purpose. You are not an accident. You were put here for a reason. You were conceived in God’s mind before you came into existence.
You are God-Like
Like the first man and woman, you were created in the image (tselem) and likeness (demuth) of God (vss. 26-27). To be created in the image and likeness of God simply means to have a God-like character. Put in fancy theological parlance, “You are the created archetype of God who is the uncreated archetype.” You are God’s special representative in the world. You are not merely a bearer of God’s image; you are essentially God’s image.
The image of God in you represents the totality of your being. It concerns your nature, your character, your personality, your spirituality, your place in the world, and the very essence of being a child of your heavenly Father. While there are certain things that God does that you cannot do (for instance, you cannot be omnipresent, omniscient, or omnipotent), you do possess many of God’s attributes. This is what some theologians mean when they refer to the communicable and incommunicable attributes of God.
God loves; you too have the capacity to love. God reasons; you too have the capacity to reason. God laughs; you laugh too, don’t you? God empathizes; you too have the capacity to empathize with other people. God forgives; you too can forgive others. God is just; you too can seek and promote justice in the world. God is intelligent; you too are intelligent. God experiences inexplicable joy; you too can experience joy in abundance. God is Spirit; you too are not only a physical being but also a spiritual one. There is joyful fellowship among the members of the Trinity; you too were created to be in fellowship and communion with God and fellow humans. God lives forever; you too will live for eternity.
Only God and humans share these characteristics. No other creature can love, empathize with others, forgive, think, laugh, or experience joy as humans do. No creatures, aside from humans, have a spiritual component to their lives.
Among all creatures, you are special. Animals do not bear God’s image. Plants do not bear God’s image. The oceans, the skies, the mountains, and the galaxies are all beautiful and magnificent. But guess what? They are not created in the image of God. Only humans are. Isn’t it wonderful that the Creator deems you so special that He decided to create you in His own image?
Irrespective of your gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, academic or financial background, or political views, you are God’s image. Whatever other people think or say about you cannot change this fact. Be in the habit of constantly reminding yourself of the special place that you occupy in the world.
You are the Crown of God’s Creation
God purposefully created everything before creating human beings. The creation of Adam and Eve was the high point of God’s creative activity; this should tell you something about your place in creation. You are special; in fact, you are the crown of God’s creation, honorable and precious in God’s sight. As the crown of God’s creation, you were meant to live a life totally dependent on God. Your identity first and foremost is in God, not in nature, culture, science, technology, money, power, prestige, education, or influence.
While it is praiseworthy to care for animals and the ecosystem, you need to constantly remind yourself that you—and other humans—are more precious in God’s sight than animals, the sea, the environment, and nature. To care more for these than for yourself and your fellow humans is to misplace your priorities. All other parts of creation are meant to serve our common humanity and not the other way around. Because God values you more than every other thing that He has made, you need to value what God values most.
You are a Ruler
In verse 26, God clearly lays out the purpose for creating our first parents—so that they may rule over all other creatures. This is why humans were created last. Paradoxically, the last to be created was meant to rule over everything that preceded it. Many times, we tend to think that what comes first will always be first. But in God’s mathematics, the best is saved for last.
The imagery employed here is that of power and authority. To rule over something means to exercise authority over it. You were created to rule—to have dominion over—all other aspects of creation. This does not, however, imply the destruction of other creatures. Rather, it means that you must tenderly guard and preserve creation. In other words, to have dominion over animals, fish, and birds is to control them and preserve them and not allow them to have control over humans.
What this means is that each one of us was created to be “king” or “queen” over everything that is non-human. Ironically, most of the time the very things that we were created to rule over we allow to rule over us. In that case, the ruler becomes the ruled. Instead of you fearing non-human creatures, they are supposed to fear you. Instead of you submitting to the whims of other creatures, they are supposed to submit to your authority. Think of it this way: Since you were created to rule over everything in the world, you are not supposed to allow any non-human creature to determine the way you feel, react, or respond to your environment.
The same is true with respect to your environment or other non-human factors. When you allow it to rule over you, you need to boldly claim the promise in this verse. What about animals? Do you allow your pets to rule over you? Remember, you were given dominion over all of creation save humans. What about food? Do you allow what you eat or drink to be the lord over your life? And what about material possessions? The next time issues about your house try to overwhelm you, remind yourself that the house is supposed to serve you and not the other way around. Whenever your car needs mechanical service, remind yourself that automobiles were made by humans whom they are supposed to serve. What about money? Do you allow your possession of money or lack of it to rule over your life? What about the clothes you wear and other beauty ornaments? Do you allow them to rule over your sense of judgment? This question of rulership can be applied to every aspect of your life. Never allow created things to rule over you. This is the secret of the biblical concept of success.
You are Blessed
In verse 28, we read that after creating Adam and Eve in His image, God blessed (barak) them. This means that from the very beginning of creation, the Creator wants nothing more than your happiness. To be blessed in this way means to have everything that you need to live happily and to glorify God. As the Westminster Larger Catechism puts it, “The chief end of human existence is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That is what God desires for you.
Any time you find yourself thinking that life is so frustrating (sometimes rightfully so) and not worth living, remember that you have been blessed by God. As the old hymn puts it, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” If you fail to remind yourself constantly that you have been blessed by God, you will constantly think of yourself as being unfortunate when things are not going the way you want them to. And guess what? There will always be something that threatens to steal from you this sense of blessedness. You have a choice: You can either allow things to control you or you can exercise your God-given authority and positively confess the reality of your blessedness over them. The choice is yours.
You are Meant to Be Fruitful
The first part of the cultural mandate in verse 28 is to be fruitful. This agricultural term has both a biological and a spiritual meaning. A direct consequence of being blessed by God is fruitfulness. God wants you to be fruitful in all aspects of life, to reproduce your kind. In other words, God does not desire to see you come into the world and leave it the same way. No, He wants your impact to be felt in the world. By being fruitful, God is calling you to be His vicegerent. And in the biological sense, God wants you to procreate godly children who are images of God and who enjoy a spiritual relationship with Him. God wants to continue this circle of biological and spiritual fecundity through you.
Being fruitful is at the core of your being. This is why deep within you is the burning desire to be of value because you want to contribute something meaningful to the human race. No matter where you are right now in your spiritual journey, you may readily admit that such a desire is deeply seated in your heart.
But such a desire is not only peculiar to you. It is common to every human being. Perhaps as you read this your mind is scanning through some of the “not-very-nice” people that you know, and you are wondering how they can possibly desire to contribute something meaningful to humanity. There are thousands (if not millions) of stories about people who were judged to possess no innate goodness, but because God has designed them with a quest to be fruitful, at the appropriate time their lives they became the very people who contributed much good to the world.
You are Meant to Multiply
The second aspect of the cultural mandate we see in verse 28 is the command to multiply. Multiplication is a direct consequence of fruitfulness. Notice that God did not command Adam and Eve to add a few other people to the human race. What He instructed them to do was to multiply. I am sure you know the difference between addition and multiplication. Growth by addition is a gradual process; by contrast, growth by multiplication is exponential. Since Adam and Eve were the only humans on earth, God instructed them to multiply so that there would be many of their kind, worshipping and fellowshipping with God.
You too were meant to multiply. There are certain unique things about you that God wants the rest of the world to experience through you. God not only wants you personally to grow biologically and spiritually, He also wants other people to benefit directly through you. He wants you to multiply godliness, love, kindness, mercy, justice, respect, trust, generosity, goodness, and joy in the world and to share your unique talents and gifts with the world. In short, God wants your impact to be felt in the world, for you to be remembered as someone who came into the world and improved it. God is calling you to be a multiplier of godly attributes in the world.
You are Meant to Fill the Earth
The third aspect of the cultural mandate in verse 28 is the command to fill the earth. Notice that this follows directly from the command to multiply. According to this mathematical logic, multiplication will result in exponential growth and expansion, which will lead ultimately to the filling of the earth. For example, the world population in the nineteenth century was one billion people; in the space of just two hundred years, the population grew to about 7.7 billion people. I am pretty sure that by the time you read these words, this number will have multiplied significantly. In all likelihood, you will live at a time when world population will grow to ten billion or more. Such exponential population growth is a direct consequence of the cultural mandate.
In this day and age, people like to talk about this growth in negative, frightening terms. From a biblical standpoint, however, this is something great: It is a direct fulfillment of a divine imperative. You are here because someone fulfilled the divine mandate to fill the earth. Think of your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents, and so on. You may not know who they were or what they looked like, or you simply may not remember them, but God used them to be the channel through which you came. Without them, there wouldn’t be you. Whether you have good or bad memories of them is inconsequential. It doesn’t matter whether your father was a drunkard, your parents abandoned you at the time you needed them the most, or one of your relatives acted irresponsibly toward you. What really matters is what you choose to do with your life. If something about your past bothers you, the earlier you recognize that you cannot turn back the hands of time and rewrite that history the better it will be for you. Since it is practically impossible to change your biological history, why don’t you just embrace and cherish it? What you should be most concerned about is the legacy you will leave. This can be biological or spiritual, or both. God does not want your history to be erased after you are long gone. Rather, He wants you to be remembered for good.
You are Meant to Subdue the Earth
The fourth aspect of the cultural mandate in verse 28 is to subdue the earth. To subdue the earth means to exercise control over it; you are, in other words, given the divine mandate to subdue it. If the earth should subdue us, we would all be destroyed. Notice also the connection between this command and the preceding one. By filling the earth, humans are directly subduing it.
This mandate implies that you are to contribute meaningfully toward the common good of the planet. Issues such as climate change and global warming, which threaten our planet and therefore all of humanity, should bother you. Consider carefully what would happen if you and other humans simply folded their hands and did nothing to address these issues. Rather than subduing the earth, humans would be subdued and consumed by the earth. Such a scenario is counterintuitive. To contribute your part toward this mandate, you need to think constantly about what and how you can improve the environment around you. You need not look too far before you discover that some form of pollution threatens the well-being of the earth. God may be calling you to do something about that pile of trash in your neighborhood, the dirty gutter on your street, the plastic bags scattered about, the dirty drainage filling the sewer lines in your community, the poisoned stream in your town, or various unhealthful practices in your community that constitute a danger to our humanity.
Points to Ponder
1. God-like: How much do you value the fact that you are God-like? What does that tell you about your capabilities?
2. Crown of Creation: Are you sometimes tempted to think that God doesn’t care so much about you? Remember, you are the crown of His creation. Do you think God would ever abandon what He cares so much for?
3. Ruler: How are you exercising your God-given rulership in the world? Do you rule over your circumstances or do you allow them to rule over you?
4. Blessed: Despite any challenges you are confronted with, do you recognize how much you are blessed by virtue of being created human? This fact alone should spur you to live a more spiritually fruitful life.
5. Fecundity: God wants you to be fruitful. What practical steps are you taking to fulfill this divine mandate?
6. Multiplication: What kind of fruit are you multiplying in the world? In other words, what unique values are you adding to the world?
7. Population Explosion: From what perspective do you consider the explosive population growth in our time? Do you see it as a threat or an opportunity?
8. Subdue the Earth: What practical steps are you willing to take to improve our planet? Remember that you don’t have to look far; look around you and do something about what you see that bothers you. Don’t wait for the government or other people to do it for you. DO SOMETHING!