The meaning and purpose of life


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GENESIS 1:26-28

Genesis is a book of beginnings – the creation of the world and the birth of the human race. But also the first book of the Bible defines the relationship between the Lord of Creation and human beings. It forces us to ask the question: what are we here for?

The historical model for interpreting Genesis assumes it was a revelation given by God to Moses in the wilderness. Yahweh (the Hebrew name for God) was calling Israel to form a nation that was distinctive from the pagan nations around them who were polytheist (had many gods).

In the eighth act of creation described in Genesis 1:26-8, God creates man and woman both in nature and over it. Although they share the created order with other living creatures, yet they are mandated to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’. The word ‘subdue’ here has provoked some controversy as some writers (such as the American theologian Lynn White) have argued that the interpretation of ‘subdue’ has led human beings to exploit nature and degrade the earth.

It is also clear from Genesis 1 that in some special way human beings reflect God himself: ‘let us make mankind in our image’. This implies that we have a special kind of relationship with God as rational, moral and responsible beings with ability to create in godlike ways.

We are also created ‘male and female’ with complementary characteristics. There is no hint of male superiority in this first creation narrative (it is in the second creation narrative that the woman is formed from the spare rib of Adam). In this story male and female are created together - which implies a radical equality, echoing the words of Paul much later that ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:28).