Just Be Who You Are!
For the past two Christmases, someone decided it was a good idea to do made-for-TV renditions of favorite children’s dramas. Two years ago it was The Sound of Music, and this year, Peter Pan. In an effort to modernize and grab a new audience, I guess, they cast Carrie Underwood as Maria and Christopher Walken as Captain Hook. I am sure Underwood is a good singer, but an actor she is not! Walken is a great actor, unique even, but ask him to do song and dance? No. Absolutely not!
Why didn’t it work? Both were out of their element, asked to do something they weren’t made to do. Both were trying to be something they were not.
It is a blessing to know yourself well enough that you work in such a way in life that fulfill your calling. It is almost always a curse – complete with dread, embarrassment, frustration, and failure – to try to be someone else.
J. Richard Middleton does not go far into his book A New Heaven and a New Earth, a book about the end of time as we know it, without returning to a main point be made early in the book: “eschatology is inevitably connected to ethics.” Whatever the end of time may look like, whatever may happen, it is not just interesting theory to imagine as we wait for it to unfold, ultimately disconnected from how we live today. How we see this life ending intimately shapes how we live in this world right now.
Middleton asks the immense question “Why are we here?” Who doesn’t wonder that? Then he surveys the three main answers Christians tend to give:
- Some say our main goal for our time on this planet is to escape this place and fly off to Heaven. But it begs a huge question: why were we placed here in the first place? If our goal is to get to Heaven, the abode of God, why not place us there right from the beginning? This answer is deeply flawed.
- Others say we are here to glorify God. Our greatest calling in life is to worship and to help others see God as the one right point of focus for worship. This is a good answer but is it sufficient. Worship is not a uniquely human action (consider the panoply of non-human creation that worships in Psalm 148) and Genesis 1-2 seems to imply that our nature as the image-bearers of God calls for a unique purpose. The main problem with this view is that it is too small. To worship is what all creations are made for. For Middleton, the key is asking how do mountains and stars worship? Simply by being the best version of what they are, most like what they were intended to be, and to flourish in that pattern. Thus, our purpose is not to worship, rather we worship by fulfilling our purpose.
The third answer and the one Middleton adopts is that we are here to fulfill the particular mission given to humans in Genesis 1-2. Genesis 1:26-28 casts us in the role of ruler and subduer of a world still moving from chaos to order. Our calling in Genesis 2:15 is to work the garden so that it reaches its potential as a garden, not a wilderness. For Adam and Eve that meant agriculture and animal husbandry. But in the chapters that follow we see humans assume the roles of city builders, technology-makers, artists, and formers of civilization. Middleton states we are called to execute “the responsible exercise of power on God’s behalf over our earthly environment” (39). This is often called “the cultural mandate.” We were made to help God create on this planet an ordered culture in which power is stewarded responsibility for the flourishing of all creatures. Such is the imago Dei (the image of God) with which we are given the privilege to bear. And when we play this role, it is worship. Not the singing songs form of worship, rather the “full-orbed bodily obedience” kind of worship of Romans 12:1-2.
When we play this role of benevolent vice-regent (a role historically reserved only for kings in the ancient world, but now given to all God’s people as the “kingdom of priests” [Exodus 19:6] and “royal priesthood” [1 Peter 2:9]), we are doing what we were made for. We are solidly in our sweet-spot of purpose and mission. And we realize our life is about the here-and-now not the hereafter, that, in fact, the hereafter is brought about by our work in the here-and-now. There is work to do. This is no waiting game.