Why Am I Here? (Part 2)


In the last article we focused upon our end.  We looked at the vision of John that we are to live into.  Another way of getting to the same place is to look at the beginning. “Eschatology [the study of last things] is like protology [the study of first things].”1  A thing’s end is “built in”, so to speak, from the beginning.  A broom is made (its beginning) to sweep up debris (its end).  A camera is made (its beginning) to take pictures (its end).  One can ask “What is a thing made to do?” in order to get a vision of its end.2 When we ask, “What is Man made to do?” We answer “be the image of God.”

The image of God should be understood as more of a vocation than some quality that we possess.  It is related more to what we do than who we are.  (That’s why it is addressed under “Why am I here?” instead of “Who am I?”).  Consider that the days of creation are more concerned with assigning role/function than they are with material existence.3 Whereas Genesis 1:1 is an introduction to the account, 1:2 describes the “stuff” of creation as without form and without function. Day one is about the ordering of periods of light and dark, not the existence of light per se. Notice, v.5 says, “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” Why not just call the light, “light”, and the darkness, “darkness”? Because he is not concerned with the material existence of light and dark (if dark can even be said to “exist”) but about what function they perform. The meaning of the verse is that God called the period of light “Day” and the period of darkness “Night.” This further helps make sense of the previous verse. “God separated the light from the darkness” (1:4). If we are speaking materially then it is nonsensical to speak of the separation of light and dark. There is nothing to separate because they cannot dwell together in any rational sense. They are mutually exclusive by nature. However, if it means that God established a particular and ordered period of light and an ordered period of darkness, then it makes sense. To be consistent we should understand “a period of light” throughout whenever the text says “light”.  Therefore, 1:3 is not about the creation of light materially but about assigning a role/function within an ordered system. The meaning would then be, “Then God said, ‘Let there be a period of light’; and there was a period of light.” This sort of role assignment continues throughout Genesis 1. In 1:6 the dome is created with the emphasis falling on its function.  “And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.'” (1:6).  When he created the “lights” of the sky he specifically mentions what function they are to perform. “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so” (1:14, 15).  If that is the pattern of Genesis 1 then we should consider the “creation” of Man also to emphasize his role rather than his existence.4  That is exactly what we find.

When we arrive at our text the writer places the weight upon the function of Man (1:26).  The “image of God” is defined in terms of what Man is supposed to do, not in terms of what he is.  “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”  Man’s vocation, his role/function, is further explained by v. 28, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”  Hence, in response to the question, “Why am I here?”  we can answer, “To have dominion over the earth, to be fruitful, to multiply, and to fill the earth.”  The rest of this article will be dedicated to unpacking these dense phrases to see what they mean for us.

We Reign Under God
Because of our twisted ideas of power it is dangerous to say simply, “I am here to have dominion.”  It must be acknowledged up front that Man’s dominion is derivative.  Authority is not inherent in us; it has been delegated to us.  God has granted us authority.  “[Y]ou have made [human beings] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet” (Ps. 8:5, 6).  We are “crowned” but there is one higher than us who does the crowing.  God is the one that has given us authority and he must be acknowledged as having more authority than we do. “But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him” (1 Cor. 15:27).  This means that we are not to rule however we want.  We rule under the authority of God and always in deference to him.

We Reign in Imitation of God
Our duty is described as “the image of God” because we are to represent God to the world (this is another reason why we must defer to his authority).  If we are to represent God then there must be some analog between what we do and what God does.  This is, in fact, exactly how the narrative describes it.  We could describe God’s works in Genesis 1 as twofold: separating and filling.

First, separating.  God separated the light from the darkness (1:4), the waters above from the waters below (1:6, 7), and water from dry land (1:9).  Paired with the act of separating is the act of naming.  They are intimately connected.  To name something is a way of separating it from other things.  To give a name to something is to say that it is this and not that.  Our English word “denominate” literally means “to name” but it is also used to designated the number by which a whole is divided, hence the word “denominator.”  As God separates he also names.  He names the light “Day” and the darkness “Night” (1:5), the dome which separates the waters is named “Sky” (1:8), and the dry land is called “Earth” while the water is called “Sea” (1:10).
In imitation of God, the very first thing we find Adam doing is separating the animals by giving them names.  “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (1:19).

Second, filling.  Genesis 1 is a symmetrically arranged account of creation.  Those things which are separated on day 1 are filled in day 4, those separated on day 2 are filled in day 5, and those separated on day 3 are filled in day 6.5 The periods of light and dark are filled with their luminaries (1:14-19), the water and sky is filled with fish and birds (1:20-23), and the land is filled with land animals and human beings (1:24-26).
In imitation of God, Man is commanded to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (1:28).

In creation there is a sense in which God held back.  He carried creation only so far and then placed Man upon the earth to carry that creation forward.  God could have named all the animals on his own but he didn’t.  He left that duty to Man.  God expects us to carry on his work of separating/ordering and filling.  “The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings” (Ps. 115:16).

We Create Cultures
More and more scholars agree that a great part of Man’s duty upon the earth is to create cultures which glorify God.6 The biblical image of this is that of a gardener.  Indeed, agriculture is the most basic form of culture-making.7  Gardening is an act in which Man takes the raw “stuff” of creation and, by wise nurturing, helps it to grow up and realize its full potential.  This is the picture of what Man is to do with all of the “stuff” of creation.
Creating cultures is, I believe, part of Man’s responsibility inherent in the command to “fill the earth.”

“The command to ‘fill’ the earth here is not merely a divine request that Adam and Eve have a lot of babies.  The earth was also to be ‘filled’ by the broader patterns of their interactions with nature and with each other.  They were to bring order to the Garden.  They would introduce schemes for managing affairs.  To ‘subdue’ the Garden would be to transform untamed nature into a social environment.  In these ways human beings would be ‘adding’ to that which God created.  This is the kind of ‘filling’ that some Christians have had in mind when they have labeled this command in Genesis 1–helpfully, I think–‘the cultural mandate.’  God placed human beings in his creation in order to introduce a cultural ‘filling’ in ways that conform to his divine will.”8


This also is in imitation of God.  So much of what is pictured in Genesis 1 is not God making more “stuff” but ordering that stuff in meaningful ways so as to make a habitable (and beautiful) environment for Man to inhabit.  God makes the world liveable (by assigning function) but also loveable (by giving excellence of form).  That is the very definition of culture-making.


We began our investigation into “Why am I here?” by looking at our end.  In our discussion of John’s vision of the New Heaven and New Earth we saw the sort of kingdom we are working towards.  In this article we answered that same question by looking at our beginning.  Hopefully we can now see how those two are intimately connected, how the end is “built in” to the beginning.  If Adam and Even would have faithfully fulfilled their commission the picture of Revelation 21, 22 would have become a reality.  Their Garden would have become Revelation’s Garden-City.  They failed, however, and God through Israel and eventually Jesus Christ worked to put it right again.  Christians, through the Spirit of Christ, carry on this project.  It is what we were created to do.  Day by day the image of God is being renewed in us through God’s Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18) as we work towards bringing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  This is who we are.  This is what it means to be human.  So join me in fulfilling our ancient calling.  Because you were born to.


©M. Benfield 2016

1. J.D. Levenson, Journal of Religion 64 (1984), 298; quoted in T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology, (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 14.
2. David Foster Wallace illustrates this in his novel The Broom of the System, The Penguin Ink Series (New York: Penguins Books 2010), 149, 150. “What she did with me–I must have been eight, or twelve, who remembers–was to sit me down in the kitchen and take a straw broom and start furiously sweeping the floor, and she asked me which part of the broom was more elemental, more fundamental, in my opinion, the bristles or the handle. The bristles or the handle. And I hemmed and hawed, and she swept more and more violently, and I got nervous, and finally when I said I supposed the bristles, because you could after a fashion sweep without the handle, by just holding onto the bristles, but couldn’t sweep with just the handle, she tackled me, and knocked me out of my chair, and yelled into my ear something like, ‘Aha, that’s because you want to sweep with the broom, isn’t it? It’s because of what you want the broom for, isn’t it?’ Et cetera. And that if what we wanted a broom for was to break windows, then the handle was clearly the fundamental essence of the broom, and she illustrated with the kitchen window, and a crowd of domestics gathered; but that if we wanted the broom to sweep with, see for examples the broken glass, sweep sweep, the bristles were the thing’s essence … Meaning as fundamentalness. Fundamentalness as use. Meaning as use. Meaning as use.”
3. On this point I am indebted to John Walton’s work, especially The Lost World of Genesis One, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009).
4. J. Richard Middleton agrees with Walton here. “These two examples of creatures in 1:6 and 1:14-18 whose existence is explicitly defined by their function or purpose thus sets up the expectation, or leads to the presumption, that the royal function or purpose of humanity in 1:26 is not a mere add-on to their creation in God’s image, separable some way from their essence or nature.” The Liberating Image: the Imago Dei of Genesis 1, (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 54).
5. This is widely recognized by scholars, Walton and Middleton included. See their respective works listed above (The Lost World of Genesis, 62; The Liberating Image, 75).
6. J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic 2014), 41-55; The Liberating Image, 31, 88, 89; Randy Alcorn, Heaven, (Carol Stream, IL; Tyndale, 2004), 375 and passim; James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, (Grand Rapids: BakerAcademic, 2009), 163-164, 205-214; Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), passim esp. 33-37.
7. “As anthropologists know, the basis for all culture is agriculture. We could not develop the sort of complex cultures that we have today–with cities, governments, technology, art, science, and academic institutions–if we did not first find a way to produce enough food for people to eat. Hunter-gatherers can develop only a rudimentary culture. In order to develop any form of complex social order, people must be able to settle down somewhere and have a dependable supply of food. This makes sense of the garden of Eden as the original human environment of Genesis 2. God’s encouragement to the first humans to eat freely from the trees of the garden (Gen. 2:16) clearly indicates that the garden is meant to provide food for human needs.” Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 41.
8. Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching In, 35.

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 3)

In part 1 we discussed what God is doing in the world and in part 2 we discussed how God is doing it.  Here, in part 3, we are going to discuss what we have only hinted at in the previous articles: how is God going to fix the project now that it’s gone wrong.  But first, why did it go wrong?

In part 1 we made a point to illustrate that this is ultimately God’s Story (it all begins with him in Genesis 1).  This means that though Man is ruling (as discussed in part 2), he is supposed to be doing so under God (as we see him doing in Genesis 2).  Man’s vocation is not to do what ever he sees fit but to reflect the image of God into the world, to do God’s works after him.  But another part of the image of God is having free will.  This freedom of choice is symbolized by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Though it appears in Genesis 2 it is central in Genesis 3 where it becomes the site of what is commonly known as The Fall.

Up until this point everything “good” has been pronounced so by God himself.  He is the one with the knowledge of good and evil and he is the one that has been defining what is good.  The question the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil present to Man is, “Will you continue to depend upon God for your knowledge of what is good and what is evil?  Will you continue to trust his definition of goodness?  Will you reflect his image into the world?  Or, will you take it upon yourselves to define good and evil?  Will you make your own boundaries?  Will you reflect something else into the world?”  They were supposed to rule under God, to depend upon him for knowledge of good and evil.  That’s why they were forbidden to eat of the tree.  “And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die'” (Gen. 2:16, 27).

And things go well.  For a while.  Then something else enters the scene.  We don’t know where the talking snake came from or why it’s there but we are told immediately that he is very “crafty” (3:1).  He speaks to the woman and begins to throw doubt on the character of God.  Although he has defined good and evil so far the serpent questions whether God is, himself, “good.”  “Maybe he’s holding something back from you,” the serpent suggests.  “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'” (3:4, 5). The ironic thing is that they were already like God.  They bore his image.1  Also, they didn’t need the to eat of the Tree of Knowledge to know about good and evil, they had God for that.  They could depend upon him.  Regardless, the deception works.  The serpent, the archetype of rebellion, convinces the man and woman to join in his rebellion against God. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (3:6, 7).  From that moment on they have the sentence of death in them.  They are separated from the tree of life (3:22) and chapter 5 contains the chorus “and he died.”  Not only do the humans begin to die but something strange also happens to creation itself.  Whereas before it has only been blessed now it is cursed.  “Cursed is the ground because of you .. thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you” (3:17, 18).

Even though Man now has the stain of rebellion in him God doesn’t just take back the reigns.  God intended Man to run the world (under him, of course) and he expects them to continue to do so.  When God sent Man out of the garden he had the same responsibility as when he was in it: to till the ground (3:23).  But we’ve seen how this goes.  As Man tries to fulfill his vocation, to reflect the image of God into the world, he does so imperfectly.  Though he makes art and cities and music and technology and culture, very often his efforts become further forms of oppression and rebellion (see part 2).  Reflecting on this very idea, C.S. Lewis’ description of history is accurate:

“What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’–could set up on their own as if they had created themselves–be their own masters–invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy … That is the key to history.  Terrific energy is expended–civilisations are built up–excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong.  Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.  In fact, the machine conks.  It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down.  They are trying to run it on the wrong juice.  That is what Satan has done to us humans”1

But God is committed to the project.  Creation will be run by Man (cf. Ps. 115:116).  So, even as God moves to rescue creation (Man included), he promises to do so through Man.  Immediately after the deception of the serprent there is a promise that the serpent and all who take part in his rebellion will be defeated by Man, here called “the seed of woman.”  “The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (3:14, 15).  Though the serpent brought about the curse of Man the serpent would eventually be beaten by Man.

As the Story continues we are regularly reminded that God intends to run through world through Man.  Noah receives the same sorts of commands that Adam did.

“God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.  The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered … And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it'” (9:1, 2, 7).

When rebellion once again comes to a head in the Tower of Babel, he scatters the people and then calls on one man, Abraham, to fix it all.  Why?  Because God will work for creation by creation, i.e. by man.  Listen again to the echoes of the Adamic commands (only now often the commands are promises): “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nationand I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:1-3).  Notice: 1. Adam was commanded to mulitiply, God promised that he would multiply Abraham.  2. God blessed Adam, God promised Abraham his blessing.  3. Adam was commanded to “bless” the world by helping it flourish, Abraham was promised “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In a way Abraham has become a New Adam.  The project of bringing blessing and flourishing to creation will continue through Abraham and his family.  As Abraham becomes a family and as his family becomes a nation the project of bringing blessing/flourishing to creation is not lost.  The nation of Israel is given laws in which God again defines good and evil.  As Israel obeys the laws they become an example to the nations of what true humanity is supposed to look like.  The nations look on in wonder.

“You must obey them [the laws] diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’  For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him?  And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as the entire law that I am setting before you today?” (Deu. 4:6-8).

The law of Israel included moral commandments which direct their relationship with God and with other people, as we would expect (Ex. 20; Deu. 5).  But it also includes laws which direct their relationship with creation as well.  They were supposed to let the land rest (Lev. 25:1-7).  The Sabbath day was to give rest to animals as well as people (Deu. 5:14).  They were expected to care for their domesticated animals (Pro. 12:10), but were also to be careful not to kill other animals to extinction (Deu. 22:6, 7).  There were even limitations on which trees they could cut down (Deu. 20:19, 20).  In fact, Israel’s eventual disregard for the land is one of the reasons why they were sent into exile (2 Ch. 36:20, 21).  God’s intention for Man was to bring blessing/flourishing to the world, and Israel is supposed to be representative Man to the world.  The same purpose God had for Man in the garden is the same purpose that Israel carries forward.

But what happens when the instrument of blessing also falls prey to the curse?  Although Israel had a mission to be a “light to the nations” (cf. Isa. 42:6; Mat. 5:16), they failed in their sacred charge.  God, however, is committed to the project.  He has a purpose for all the world and he has made a covenant with Israel to fulfill that purpose through them.  God has bound himself.  He cannot fulfill his purpose apart from Israel.

God will have to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but, paradoxically, he has also bound himself to do it through Man, and not just Man, through the representative nation of Israel.  This is what necessitates the restoration of Israel from under the curse to God’s blessing. This is what necessitates the incarnation.

God raises up one man who calls himself the Son of Man (cf. Mark 9:9, 12, 31), which is a Hebraic idiom meaning The Human Being (Pss. 8:4; 80:17; 144:3; 146:3).  This man, Jesus, is therefore called “the image of God”, the very thing that Man was intended to be (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3).  This makes him representative of all human kind.

But also, God calls him “Israel”, making him representative of the nation, carrying its destiny on his back, while also being charged with the restoration of Israel herself (cf. Isa. 49:1-6).  The gospels are very clear that we are to understand Jesus as this Servant (Luke 4:16-21; cf. Isa. 61:1, 2; 11:1-9).

So, we return to the question with which we opened: how is God going to get the project back on track now that it’s gone wrong?  And we have found our simple answer: Jesus.  But exactly how Jesus puts things right deserves more attention.  This discussion will occupy the next article in this series.

Let’s sum up what we have learned so far:
1. God intends the world to flourish.  When it falls under the curse, he does not give up on creation, but moves to redeem it.
2. God intends the world to flourish under man’s guardianship.  He never gives up on this project.  When creation goes wrong (Man included), he moves to fix creation through creation, i.e. through Abraham and his family.
3.  When Abraham’s family (Israel), the solution to the world’s problem, also becomes part of the problem, God must rescue Israel from within Israel for the sake of the world.  He does this through Jesus Christ.  See part 4 of the article to learn more about how Jesus accomplishes this and what it means for us.

©M. Benfield 2016

1. For further explanation of this event see The Bible Project’s videos which cover the text, Genesis 1-11 and Read Scripture: Genesis 1-11.
2. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 49-50.

God’s Good World and the Image of God (Part 2)


In Part 1 of this article we focused on the what.  We got the big picture of what God is doing in and for his good (but now fallen) world.  He is redeeming creation “far as the curse is found.”  This article will focus on the how God goes about doing that. Here the idea of the image of God becomes most important.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image (Heb. tselem), according to our likeness'” (Genesis 1:26).

The word here translated “image” is used elsewhere to refer to images/statues of false gods (tselem: 2 Ki. 11:18; Eze. 7:20; Amos 5:26).  It would not, then, be entirely inappropriate to say that we are God’s “idols.”  Therefore, we are representations of God to the world. This means that being human is quintessentially divine imitation.  What God is we are supposed to be to the world.  Interestingly enough, that is exactly what we find.

There is much to be said about Genesis 1 and 2 but we will only notice two things for our present purpose: 1. When creation began it was disordered.  It was “a formless void” (1:2).  Much of what takes place in Genesis 1 is not just creation but the ordering of creation and a great part of ordering is naming/labeling.  We want to know what stuff is, and God tells us.  “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night … God called the dome Sky … God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas” (1:5, 8, 10).  2.  Not only was creation “formless” (i.e. without order) it was also “void” (i.e. empty).  God orders/names as well as fills creation.  To the assumed empty Sky God says, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night” (1:14).  To the empty waters God says, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures … God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas'” (1:20-22).  To the empty land he says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind” (1:24).  Naming and filling, these are main features of God’s work in Genesis 1.

Up until now, God has been running the show.  He is the one who has dominion of the fish, birds, cattle, animals, and all the earth.  But, in some sense, God hands over creation to Man.  “The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to human beings” (Ps. 115:116).  Man now represents God to the world.  That is what it means to be made “in his image.”  “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:26, 27).

If we are God’s images, and if God’s work in Genesis 1 involved naming and filling creation, then we ought to expect that to be a part of Man’s work.  That is the very thing we find.  Immediately after Man’s creation in God’s image he is given the charge to fill the earth.  “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (1:28).  As we moved to chapter 2 we find the animals without names.  God is in the naming business and certainly could have done it himself, but he chose to do it another way.  “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field” (2:19, 20).  Just as God did the work of naming so Man follows in his footsteps.  Man is doing God’s works after him.  That is what it means to reflect the image of God into the world.

Man’s dominion (under God) is one of benevolence.  Just like God brought about the flourishing of his good world (see part 1) so Man is to have dominion over the world in a way that brings about its flourishing, much like a shepherd rules his sheep for their good.  Or better yet, like a gardener exercises dominion over his garden for the good of the garden.  Adam was placed in the garden “to till (Heb. abad) it and keep (Heb. shamar) it” (2:15).  A more literal translation would read “to serve it and to guard it”, or, as Jonathan Sacks put it, “to serve and conserve it.”1  Though we are masters of creation we are also servants of it (already pointing forward to Jesus’ words which seem so upside down to us–Mark 10:42-45).

All of this is a way of saying that God now shares his responsibility.  What God wants to do in the world we noticed in part 1, now we see how he wants to do it: through Man.

As we follow the Story Man brings about the flourishing of creation over and over again.  He takes the raw materials of creation, like a gardener, trains it up to help it become the best that it can be.  In the first chapters of Genesis we have cities being built (4:17), instruments invented and music made (4:21), new tools/technology created (4:22), and poems being written (4:23).  Man is continues the work that God began, he brings about the flourishing of creation.  But there is a dark side to this all.

Just like we can use the awesome power that God has given us to bring about the flourishing of creation, we can also use that power to oppress creation, to curse it, and twist it in ugly ways.  Cain kills his brother (4:8-16).  The first poem ever written glorified violence (4:23).  New technologies are used to build cities in defiance of heaven (11:3, 4).


The point to take away is this: being human means reflecting God’s image into the world.  And that is just a way of saying that we do God’s works after him.  He wants his creation to flourish and he has chosen us to help get it there.  But what happens when God’s means for blessing creation (humankind), instead bring a curse?  What happens when they are infected by the curse as well?  When that happens, then Man himself needs saving.  That leads us to part 3.

©M. Benfield 2016

1. “Environmental Responsibility”, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.