In the beginning, we all had the same calling.
It’s commonplace now to talk about God’s unique calling on our individual lives, and that my calling may be different from your calling – and that’s all right. But in the beginning, we all had the same calling.
By “all” I don’t just mean all humans; I mean every living creature God created. Birds, snakes, lions, platypuses and even bugs shared the same calling from God as the humans.
This universal calling is found in Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and multiply.” That’s what he told them.
It’s explicit when God makes the fish and sea creature (Genesis 1:20-23), implied when he makes the land creatures (Genesis 1:9-11, 24-25), and explicit again when he makes the humans (Genesis 1:26-38).
The two statements in Genesis 1:22 and Genesis 1:28 can be seen as bookends or brackets that are inclusive of everything in between.
So, does that mean our calling is to have lots of babies? It’s easy to see “be fruitful and multiply” on the most literal level, but at the core it is a calling to bring forth life.
That is the calling that God has given to every living creature, to be about the process of bringing life to creation. Life, not death.
This is heightened in Genesis 1:29-30, in which God says that he has given every plant and fruit tree to every animal, both human and beast, for food. No animals are given for food, just fruits and vegetables.
This isn’t a statement on human or animal nutrition; it is a theological statement. In other words, nothing has to die in order for something else to live. From the beginning, our calling is to bring forth life, not to bring forth death.
“But didn’t the calling given to the humans differ from that of the animals?” you might be wondering. “Didn’t God also call them, not only to be fruitful and multiply, but to have dominion over all the other living things?”
Yes, that is true, but it is a different kind of dominion than what we are used to with kings and rulers. Ask any farmer, shepherd or rancher; it’s a different kind of dominion.
The farmer doesn’t stick a seed in the ground and then give it a command: “Grow!” No, the farmer fosters the conditions in which the seed does what seeds do – sprout, grow and become plants.
The shepherd doesn’t sit on a throne and issue commands: “You sheep there, move over into that other pasture!”
No, the shepherd goes out and leads the sheep into the pasture, to the water or into the pen.
Like the farmer, the shepherd fosters the conditions in which the sheep can do what sheep do – eat, grow wool and have lambs.
Our calling is to bring forth life. Unfortunately, soon enough humans learn to bring forth death. Cain kills Abel (Genesis 4:1-16), Lamech avenges himself 77 fold (Genesis 4:19-24), and by Genesis 6 the earth is filled with violence (see Genesis 6:11).
And it still is. In fact, we’ve gotten really good at bringing forth death. It’s not just that we’ve learned new and very creative ways of killing each other, but we have grown accustomed to creating the conditions that bring forth death: oppression, injustice, prejudice, greed, selfishness and forsaking the common good.
After killing his brother, Cain’s question to God – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” – is a question we ought to be asking ourselves.
The kind of people who flourish in the kingdom of God are those who return to their first calling to bring forth life and foster all the conditions that allow life to flourish.
They are the kind of people who answer: “Yes, I am responsible for making sure my brothers and sisters are cared for.”
Many are about this already. Will the rest of us hear the call of Jesus and join them?
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Md. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, While My Muse Gently Weeps, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.
Pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland.