I’m going to take a risk as I start part two of my series, ‘Made for More Than Scrolling’. I’m going to agree with Chuck Schumer—democratic senator from New York. He’s currently the Senate Majority Leader. Before you get too concerned about liberal drift at TMS, don’t worry, I don’t agree with his politics. But I do agree with something the senator said a few years ago during a commencement speech. He said the key to a meaningful life is Monday and Friday. Each Monday, you need tasks that give your week purpose. You need a career, a calling, a job that serves others, employs your gifts, and fulfills you. Then on Friday, you need a family and community that fill up your weekend, and the rest of your time away from the office. You need to have people you love, flesh-and-blood you will die for, and a community that defines you.
Of course, Schumer is not treading new ground in this commencement speech. He may have found a clever way to express it, but the idea that work and family define our lives dates back to the creation mandate in the Bible’s opening chapter.
As we began to explore this mandate in Part 1, we talked about what it means to be made in God’s image. Because I am made in God’s image, I am, like Father, Son, and Spirit, a relational being. My highest good and most noble pursuit as an image-bearer is communion with the Trinity.
So for my remaining days on earth, God should be my central pursuit.
But beyond the privilege of knowing God, his image-bearers are also given specific tasks to accomplish. Those are laid out in Genesis 1:28. “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 sky and over every living thing that creeps on the earth.”
Those are God’s first recorded words to his image-bearers. They can be divided into two simple, yet overwhelming, responsibilities: make more image-bearers and subdue the earth. Said another way, have children and work.
Lots of sociologists, environmentalists, and politicians would tell God it was irresponsible to command his image-bearers to “fill the earth.” They wring their hands at the world’s growing population—quickly approaching eight billion (worldometers.info)—convinced that all those people are bad for the environment and a deterrent to human flourishing. God doesn’t see it that way. He loves the babies. He celebrates them so much, he’s made them a central part of his calling for his image-bearers. To raise and love children—to pass on the seed of Adam and the image of God—is an expected, normal part of life. It fills the earth with God’s image, increasing His fame and renown, displaying His creativity through each unique man and woman.
Now, the last paragraph needs a caveat. Humans are called to “be fruitful and multiply” but that is not all they are called to (we will get to the second part of their responsibility in a minute). God has extraordinary purpose and calling for singles or married couples that never bear children. Some of Scripture’s most significant image-bearers did not “be fruitful and multiply.” John the Baptist, who Jesus said was the greatest of those born of women, never had children. Neither did the apostle Paul, who wrote a lot of the New Testament. Then there was Jesus. The greatest human being who has ever lived. He neither married nor had children. Singleness is only a problem if it is chosen for selfish reasons. A childless marriage is only concerning if the husband and wife do not want kids because they know they will have to sacrifice for their little ones. If singleness is chosen for kingdom purposes, it is a gift because it frees the individuals from distraction. His or her time can be fully devoted to the work of the kingdom (see I Corinthians 7). And if a childless marriage happens because of infertility, a focus on missions, or another similar reason, it is not dishonoring to the Lord. Churches should encourage and help couples in those circumstances, not continually ask them why they do not have children.
Though singleness is a gift, it is not the expectation. God intends that most men and women will marry and have children. And when they do, they must devote themselves to raising these little image-bearers “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). As I approach middle-age, I am in the thick of parenting. My wife and I have two boys—six and three years old—and two girls. The older girl is 20 months and our second daughter is due the first week of 2023. My time and energy must be devoted to these image-bearers. God calls me to sacrifice for them, provide for them, defend them if necessary, and teach them what it means to glorify God. Too often, my devices—cell phone and laptop—distract me from my children, who are a primary calling on my life.
To honor God in this stage is to put down my phone and play with my children.
It’s to care far more about the theology my children are learning from me than the bad theology that’s populating the Internet. It’s to pray for them, be patient with them, and point them to Jesus, not be frustrated when they monopolize my time and attention. Being present with my children and for them through my leadership is how I should spend the coming years. Then when my children are older, I am called to again support them, and eventually help them as they become parents. I want the second half of my life to be devoted to fulfilling creation’s mandate by spending my time caring for the next generation of image-bearers. When I understand the high calling of “be fruitful and multiply,” I am less enticed by the allure of technology and its propensity to distract from this high calling.
After God tells His first image-bearers to “be fruitful and multiply,” He gives them a second responsibility: “subdue [creation]; and have dominion over the first of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen 1:28).
God, in His sovereignty, delegates control over creation to mankind. The world He creates does not immediately manifest all its extraordinary capabilities. Trees do not automatically turn themselves into the paper I first wrote this sentence on. Oil had to be pulled from the fields where God placed it to empower this morning’s commute. And God didn’t include the blue shirt I wore to work today in His original act of creation. What He did create that first week was cotton trees and colors. As His image-bearers, we are given the extraordinary responsibility of drawing out the immense capabilities of God’s creation. We cannot create anything new, but we can combine elements of creation into tools, clothes, foods, stories, books, and so much more. As we synthesize creation, maximizing its potential for the good of our fellow image-bearers, we are fulfilling the role God has delegated to us.
As I reach middle-age, the days and years I can “subdue and have dominion” will begin to wane. My strength, mental acuity, and endurance won’t be what they once were. For that reason, I need to be even more focused on the area of creation that God has given me to steward. I work with words, shaping and organizing them into messages. I subdue the creation by wrestling with the English language, using it for the purpose of communication with my fellow image-bearers. This is a noble and high calling, to subdue language (or at least attempt to) and use it for the glory of Christ. The more I grasp how important this task is, the more eager I will be to get up each morning and devote myself to my calling and not be distracted by the mindless scrolling that my phone calls me to.
Raise image-bearers and subdue creation. That is how God calls each of us to spend our days. A full understanding of what that looks like in our lives is the most effective way to avoid the allure of social media and smartphones. But in God’s kindness, His creation mandate is not finished with the tasks He gives us. It goes on to describe gifts that are the final antidote to the time-wasting technology that surrounds all of us. We will look at those gifts in the third and final part of this series.