Why do I exist? What am I here for? Am I in any way special or important?
The universe does not kindly answer such questions. It seems entirely unimpressed that we are here. So if the universe is all that is, then I confess, I have no idea why we’re here.
But the Christian story of the universe teaches that God made everything with purpose and called it good. And even more so when it comes to you and me. Now God apparently made the dolphin, the daisy, and the dung beetle whole-cloth out of the divine imagination—a pure expression of creativity. But we’re told that when God made humans, God was less creative. God used a pattern. We were made in God’s own image.
Welcome to the Homilies of St. Asinus, the recycled saint.
In the beginning God created. The first thing we learn about God in the story is that God is creative. God delights in making things and causing them for flourish and grow. This hospitable God has not created a desert world and commanded creatures to languish therein. No, God has made a world of life, movement, sound, and color. It has been diversely populated with creatures of every make and model, and God has knitted them together into a beautiful living tapestry set against a backdrop of purple mountains, crystal streams, and green highlands. The world is animal, vegetable, and mineral, all drawn together in relationships that preach the goodness of their Maker. And God looked at all that was made and called it “good.”
But here’s the thing: It wasn’t complete.
Don’t get me wrong. It was exactly as God wanted it. There was no disconnect between the artist’s vision and the end product. There was no deficiency. It was perfectly suited to the divine vision. But God did not make the world the way Michelangelo carved his David. That father of artistic Mannerism brought his block of marble to its desired end, and it remains thus to this day. It is finished in the every sense except for the experience of it by each new generation. God did not “finish” creation in this sense. Yes, God brought the creation week to a perfectly appropriate ending, but this was not an ending in any sense other than God’s part was now over. We’re told that God ceased from all the divine work that was to be done—God rested.
But this did not mean that creation was finished—not by a long shot. See, this was a world of seasons and years, of day and night, of growth and change. God’s rest meant that God was not going to continue working in the same dramatic way. God did not start the 8th day by creating yet another solar system out of nothing. God’s part—that of a Creator—is in the main finished. In this sense, God’s rest in this sense continues until today.
To say that God rested from creating does not mean God is inactive, only that God’s work now is that of an ever-present provider-sustainer. God’s faithfulness to that task continues to this day. It must or the world would fail. But the world that God brought to completion, isn’t really complete. It will have a history. It will change and grow. But we have not yet seen the most remarkable part of this changing world.
After creating a big beautiful world filled with diverse creatures, God determined that all this change and growth was not going to be entrusted to the world itself. Nor was God going to do it all merely by divine fiat—divine command. Remember, God is hospitable and desires creatures to flourish and become themselves. So here God outdoes all expectation. God determined to delegate the ongoing forming and filling of this world to one of the creatures. This creature would be responsible for stewarding the world into ever deepening hues of glory and splendor on God’s behalf.
But what creature could possibly do such God-like work? The horse, the platypus? They’re too simple. Perfectly adequate for galloping across the plains or doing…whatever platypuses…or “platypii” do. But a creature who was capable of directing the growth of all creation? One to whom all creation would submit as to one having authority from God but still a creature? Such a creature would have to be more like God than any creature has a right to be. Where would God even get such a creature?
It’s a great conundrum. Surely an angel has the wisdom and power to do it, but angels don’t really belong here. They can apparently visit here and do all sorts of important work, but they would always be a sort of expatriate. Heaven is their proper country—the place for which they are made. No, it would have to be a creature truly native to this world—made from it, integrated into it—a creature who would treat this world as its home…because it really was. And yet it would have to have the powers of creating and governing we associate with God. Where to find such a creature?
So with this struggle buzzing in our ears, we read the penultimate words of the creation week… “Let us Make Man.”
To get the significance of what God did here and why it changes everything, we have to understand a bit of what God wanted out of this world—why it was made in the first place.
Why does any of this exist? Well, we could talk about the delight of the Creator over the world—that the artist finds joy in the production of the art. And this would certainly be true. God does delight in the work of the divine hands. The prophets speak frequently of God rejoicing over various creatures and things. But it’s a bit more nuanced than God simply enjoying creation.
Creation, merely by being itself, is accomplishing something that God intended for it—it is fulfilling a purpose. We get a hint of what that is in Psalm 19, listen,…
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. [NIV]
When we look up at the vastness of the starry night in all its unimaginable depth and breadth, we might be tempted to attribute a word like “glory” to the heavens themselves. Surely if anything deserves the label “glorious” it is the sun, the moon, and all their sparkly consorts. But the Psalmist tells us that the whole universe does not exist for the sake of its own glory, but for that of another. “The heavens are declaring the glory of God.”
This I would offer is the purpose of all things—the reason God made it all—that the fame and reputation of God would be proclaimed by these very creatures. When the sun and the sunflower, the star or the starfish exist in their proper way and are themselves, all the beauty they possess and the awe they inspire increases the glory of the one who made them. The rooster crows, the fox nurses its young, the maple tree casts down its pirouetting seeds to the greater glory of God.
Now creation does this by nature and thus is faithful in doing so without any human intervention, and we can only do one of a couple of things in response. We can muck it up, so that the glory is inhibited; we can leave it alone, so that the glory remains stagnant; or we can do things that cause the glory to be even more deeply and beautifully expressed.
Sadly we’ve become very adept at doing the first—such that St. Paul in Romans 8 will even say that creation groans under a desire for liberation from our tyranny. But that comes from a different cause we’ll have to see later. And because we’ve taken the first option so often and so thoroughly, a case could be made for the second response—that we should just leave the natural world well enough alone. Nature is better off when humans don’t meddle with it. But the Christian creation story will not let us take either of these answers as the most basic one—the one that was true at the first before all others.
And here we discover the Christian answer to the question of why we are here. Listen to how the story says it in Genesis 1…
26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” [NLT]
Now if my previous two assumptions are true—that God does all things for God’s own glory and that God’s creatures exist to proclaim and manifest that glory—then it makes sense that this same purpose applies to us as well.
And I have to mean this in at least two ways. First, it applies to you and me just as it does to the rest of creation. The oak tree manifests the glory of God by simply being an oak tree—by doing tree things, likewise when tree frogs to froggy-things and daffodils do flower-things. So too you declare the glory of God simply by being you, simply by existing. You can’t help it. It comes with being a creature of God. You would be a manifestation God’s glory no matter what did or thought…even if you didn’t want to. The ceramic artist’s character and skill is evident in the sugar bowl, and that is true even if the sugar bowl wishes it had been a teapot. “Here is my handle, here is my… other handle.” In this sense, you don’t have to do or become anything to declare God’s glory; it comes with being a divinely-made creature—and that is enough to make God delight over you.
You don’t have to do or become anything to declare God’s glory; it comes with being a divinely-made creature.
But there is a difference between us and tree frogs. We are called Image-bearers. We are especially made by God, not just to passively declare divine glory like the daffodil, but actively through our willful choices. In this second sense, it is very much up to us how and whether we declare and deepen the divine glory in the world. We have the power to make willful choices about our conduct in the world that chickens and chickpeas do not.
The story makes it clear that we are here to actively express and deepen the glory-declaring aspects of this world. We are here to cause creation to flourish, grow, and become itself—to fulfill it’s potential.
Now if that reminds you of the sort of thing God does as a just and right ruler, you’ve gotten the point. We are here to be “like God.” God uses the divine authority and power to hospitably cause the world to flourish. We have likewise been empowered and commanded for similar things—or as Johannes Kepler put it, “To think God’s thoughts after him.”
God planted a garden and placed the man and the woman in it. Now what makes a garden different from a field or forest? They may have the same plant and animal species. The difference is that the garden has been touched by a thinking mind. It has been shaped to some end. It has been ordered along some pattern. Each plant is where it is by a design, its nature and potential contribution have been considered, and in the garden it is given what it needs to thrive and grow.
I don’t mean to say untouched nature is not beautiful or grand. It most certainly is. But God made a point by putting us into a garden, as if giving us a pattern for our work in the world. “You, my special creatures, are entrusted with going forth and putting your mark on this world so that my glory shines forth even more grandly than it does now.”
There is no room in this image for plundering nature. Humanity are not called to “use” creation to whatever ends they can conceive. No, God’s declared agenda and prior actions give us the pattern for our work. Creation should flourish at our hospitable hands.
Now don’t miss what has happened here because you’re so familiar with the story. God is not granting Adam and Eve a sort of birthright—merely giving them their just desserts. They do not deserve what they are given. They did not create themselves, nor have they done anything to merit their royal position in the world.
Out of free and loving grace, God has extended the divine hand to Adam & Eve to be a part of what God is doing. Now this constitutes nothing less than a divine invitation. They are invited to join God in the rulership of this world.
Do you want to know what you were made for? You were made to bring glory into the world through your holy life and activities. With our own hands, the glory of God is to be proclaimed in the world.
You were made to bring glory into the world through your holy life and activities.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I’m talking here only about acts of piety—going to church, reading your bible, engaging in acts of service or compassion. Yes, yes, all that. But St. Paul understood the job of being God’s royal human in far broader terms. He wrote to the church in Corinth (10:31), “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
It appears that the reason you are here is to do…well, whatever you are doing in such a way that the glory of God is seen in it. Now I have wrestled for years trying to answer the question of how I can eat or drink, or mow my lawn, or hug my kids, or shampoo my carpet to the glory of God. And after all the long and nuanced ethical categories are parsed, I have reached the conclusion that I have been making it too hard. I now believe it is as simple as this:
The most mundane activity is done to the glory of God if you mean that it should be.
The most mundane activity is done to the glory of God if you mean that it should be.
Yup, I think it’s that straight forward. You can make it more complicated by asking silly questions, like “can I sin to the glory of God,” which is just a stupid question asked by a person who’s really interested in something else. But to the one who desires that their whole life be a glory-declaring venture, it will be clear enough.
A great saint was once asked, “Is it easy to love God?” He answered, “It is easy to those who do it.” If you truly desire that filling your car with gas, filling out the TPS reports at work, and scrubbing the purple crayon marks off the wall be acts that declare and promote God’s glory in the world, then you will discover that they have become so. And furthermore the more things in life that come under the sway of this agenda, the fewer stupid questions we will ask.
See, because you are made in God’s own image and have been so charged with glory-dealing, you have it within you to actually be part of the answer to the Lord’s prayer. Remember Jesus praying to Our Father in heaven, that his name would be hallowed, his kingdom come upon earth, and his will be done here just as it is already done in heaven.
Yes, the prayer does beg that God will do these things—because in a very real sense only God can do them. But because of this invitation, God has in some great degree delegated participatory opportunities to us. God desires, and has always desired, starting with Adam and Eve, that the divine work be done in this world, not primarily by miraculous intervention (although thankfully God is strong to that end as well), but that God’s will may be done, God’s name may be hallowed, and God’s Kingdom be proclaimed and stewarded in the world—by human hands…by your hands.
God has graciously invited you and me to be part of the divine story. Your presence here matters; the work of your hands counts. God needs you—not because there is any real need in God—but, because God is gracious and hospitable, God has determined to have a relationship with us, a relationship that causes us to flourish and become our selves when we joyfully accept our role as God’s representatives in causing the world to flourish and become itself. Yes, if you have ever wondered what it would be like to be king of the world, wonder no more. It is exactly that opportunity—a co-regency of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God—which has been offered to you.
See you next time at the Homilies of St. Asinus, reflections of a recycled saint.