The Creation Mandate

How else can we glorify God? The doctrine of creation affirms the environment, where we have a responsibility of benevolent stewardship. God said, “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” (Gen. 1:28). This command is part of what theologians call “the creation mandate,” or “cultural mandate.” Human beings have been designated to represent God’s rule on earth. God has placed the wealth of his creation under our oversight (Ps. 8:5–8). Everything still belongs to him, of course, for “to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it” (Deut. 10:14). Nevertheless, God has placed what he owns into our protective care. God planted a garden, but then he put people in that garden “to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15 NIV). We have the privilege of stewardship without the prerogatives of ownership. This calling gives us the right to use the resources of creation for the good of humanity and the glory of God but not to abuse our environment in ways that harm God’s creatures or hinder human flourishing for generations to come.

More positively, the creation mandate invites us to revel in the beauty and wonder of everything that God has made, from the scarlet sunset that glimmers in the Western sky to the craggy peak of a distant mountain. The world we live in is to be neither deified nor exploited but nurtured and enjoyed. Calvin presented a complete Christian perspective on creation care when he wrote:

The custody of the garden was given in charge to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that, being content with a frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain. Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence: but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated. Let him so feed on its fruits, that he neither dissipates it by luxury, nor permits it to be marred or ruined by neglect. Moreover, that this economy, and this diligence, with respect to those good things that God has given us to enjoy, may flourish among us; let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses.

At the same time that the doctrine of creation calls us to enjoy nature, it also gives us a basis for investigating the natural world through science. Far from conflicting with science, creation makes science possible by establishing an orderly universe in which sense perception gives us trustworthy information about what is really there. Here is how one contemporary thinker explains the theological basis for science:

The universality of objective intelligibility (assumed by any honest scientist) can be explained only through recourse to a transcendent subjective intelligence that has thought the world into being, so that every act of knowing a worldly object or event is literally a recognition, a thinking again of what has already been thought by a primordial divine power.

Already in the garden of Eden, Adam began the scientific work of classification as he gave each animal its proper name (Gen. 2:19–20). The people of God have been keenly interested in the study of science ever since, partly as a way to explore the mind of our maker. Properly understood, science is not merely the study of the physical universe but also an exploration of what God has made. According to the second article of the Belgic Confession, which was first published in 1561, “The universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God.” As the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler surveyed the heavens, with all their mathematical precision, and as he pondered the “invisible things of God,” he believed that in effect he was thinking God’s thoughts after him. Kepler wrote, “God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity, also has endowed man with a mind which can comprehend these norms.” Furthermore, “God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his image so that we could share in his own thoughts.” Science is a gift from God that gives us as much opportunity as theology does to know the mind of our maker. Although the Creator God is infinitely separate from his creation, wrote Cardinal John Henry Newman, “yet He has so implicated Himself with it and taken it into His very bosom by His presence in it, His providence over it, His impressions upon it, and His influences through it, that we cannot truly or fully contemplate it without contemplating Him.”

The doctrine of creation also affirms music and the arts. While there is nothing specific about this in Genesis 1 and 2, by Genesis 4 we are introduced to Jubal as “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (v. 21). What we do with sound and sight is part of the inherent potentiality of creation. This is dynamically displayed in the vast diversity of music and art produced by every people group and every culture in the world. Whether they intend to do so or not, artists and musicians who portray the good, the true, and the beautiful are fulfilling a divine calling to creativity. According to artist Makoto Fujimura, “All artists, regardless of their faith, are breathing Eden’s air when they create.” Nonartists do something similar when they move to the rhythm of good music or receive visual art as a gift. Our creator tells us, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). But do not just think about such things: talk about them, write about them, sing about them, paint them, dramatize them, film them, and explore their truth and beauty in all the arts.

Marriage and family. Work and leisure. Science and creation care. Music and the arts. Together these varied aspects of human life comprise our cultural mandate. Based on the command to fill, subdue, and rule the earth (Gen. 1:28), we have a God-given responsibility to develop the possibilities of creation in ways that reveal our maker’s praise, and ultimately fill the whole earth with his glory (Hab. 2:14). It is not just one part of life that ought to glorify God, but all of life, in all its fullness. This is the way things were meant to be.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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