“Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…” Julie Andrews sang Rodgers and Hammerstein’s famous line in The Sound of Music. And that’s good advice.
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Genesis 1 and 2 bear a disproportionate influence on our understanding of our world because they show us the way God made it – before human sin even existed. They show us the way things ought to be. They show how the world was originally made, and they show how we as humanity would glorify God in such a world. This means that – if we want to understand fully the world we live in – then we need to start reading our Bibles at the very beginning.
If someone is investigating Christianity, I – as do many Christians – commonly suggest he or she start with the gospel of John, to get a picture of who Jesus is. And there’s nothing wrong with that, even by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s famous dictum. After all, Revelation 21:6 and 22:13 tell us that Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. The supremacy of Christ is the ballgame – the author of the book of Hebrews will give quarter to nothing else.
Yet Christ came to make all things new, to make it such that not one of God’s plans has failed. And that includes God’s plan for the very creation itself, of which humanity is the capstone. So in another sense, to understand it all, we have to start the narrative at the very beginning – Genesis 1, what God planned for this world to be. And there we find vocation:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”(Genesis 1:26–28, ESV)
God’s purposes for humanity are tied up with his purposes for the entire world, and they arc even more widely than the redemption of sinners (as hard as that is to fathom, given the majesty of God’s grace in sin forgiven). We exist for God’s glory, and his mission on our lives as a collective human race is summed up in these twin commands, to fill the earth and subdue it. This is the seed of all vocation in the Bible: filling the earth – the home, the vocation of child rearing – and subduing it – the outside, the vocation of the workplace. Those are still the activities of the day, just with far more specialization and specificity. The one who raises children helps fill the earth, and the one who goes to work subdues some tiny aspect of it. And both shape culture in some small sphere.
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CS Lewis observed in “Learning in Wartime,” his sermon during autumn 1939, “Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before: one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things.” These things are working, having children, as Lewis notes (and defends), developing culture. And they are not window dressing on the Titanic. Instead, they are the stuff of the mission of God for humanity on the earth from the very beginning.