“So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name”
In the last post, I introduced the first rhythm of generosity… receiving. Here we will move into the second rhythm… co-creating.
There is only one maker… God. We live in a creation that is God’s gift to us. Only God can create ex nihilo (out of nothing). God alone can start from scratch. We are created beings, but God does call us to be co-creators with him. One of the first things God does is invite Adam to name each of the living things God created. Whatever Adam named the creatures, became their name (Gen 2:19).
In the Hebrew mindset, naming something was connected to creation. When you named something, you had a kind of ownership over it. Naming is part of the creative process. In inviting humanity to name all living things, God was placing humanity in a place of stewardship over creation.
God places humanity in the garden, and then assigns us a vocation, or a calling, that is connected to our very being… “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). God places us in creation to till and to keep. Till: we are to work the land, fertilize it, weed it, and cultivate fruitful things. Keep: we are to care for the creation, nurture life, and care for all living things.
God gifts us as image bearers, male and female, to be his re-presentations in the earth (Gen 1:27). Meaning, we literally are a re-presentation of God over creation. We are like a two-way mirror that reflects God over creation and reflects creation back to God.
God gives us our primary vocation in the garden, “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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’” (Gen 1:28).
We are to “be fruitful and multiple” meaning we are to be co-creators with God. We fill the earth with God’s presence as the image bearers. Subduing is not about dominating, but rather being the healing presence of God to the harmful tendencies of creation. Dominion is not about asserting our will in a destructive way but overseeing the ongoing flourishing of God’s “very good” earth. In short, part of our primary work in the world is to be stewards of creation and co-creators with God in its maintenance and flourishing.
Generally, in the current form of our society, we operate in a system of capitalism in which private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit is the foundational assumption. Central characteristics of capitalism include capital accumulation, competitive markets, a price system, private property and the recognition of property rights, voluntary exchange and wage labor.
In this system, we think about work in terms of punching a timeclock, exchanging our time or skills for monetary compensation. If we earn lots of money, we can buy nice things and do what we like. This is a narrow way to understand ourselves and our vocation within the world. What if all work is sacred work? As Martin Luther once said, “Every occupation has its own honor before God. Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling. In our daily work no matter how important or mundane we serve God by serving the neighbor and we also participate in God’s on-going providence for the human race.”
What if our daily tasks are not just running around in the hamster wheel of generating wealth, but what if we saw our work as co-creating with God? This is true no matter what our job is. Whether we are employed, unemployed, or retired. We can do our work in a way that it co-creates beauty, truth, and goodness in the world.
This is where John Wesley’s wisdom to “earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can” can be helpful. Co-creation is partly about “earning all you can” by honest means that do no harm to others. Wesley himself was quite good at generating lots of money. Wesley grew up in poverty, his father (an Anglican priest in one of England’s lowest-paying parishes) was locked up in debtor’s prison. John excelled in school and earned a more lucrative position as a professor at Oxford University. John’s salary increased dramatically, from 30 pounds annually (enough for a single man to live well on) to 60 pounds, then 90 pounds, then 120 pounds and eventually to over a thousand pounds.
Yet while his salary increased, he continued to live on 30 pounds throughout his life (with some adjustment for inflation). He was also a prolific author, and his many publications and books were the equivalent today of New York Times best sellers which earned him millions of dollars. The more money he generated, the more he gave away, funding the Methodist movement and in part the larger evangelical revival.
Rather than seeing money as inherently evil, Wesley saw it as a tool to accomplish great good. He viewed being industrious and profitable, as an act of co-creation with God. But while he became the equivalent of what today would be a multi-millionaire, he did not live like one. This brings us to the next rhythm… simplification.
One of the ways to understand our work as co-creating with God is to create a budget. If you have never made a budget, I offer a simple version of one below. This week, create or recreate your budget, but consider it a spiritual tool to help you grow as a faithful steward of your resources.
Week Two Exercise: Monthly Personal Budget
Incoming: (here list your total gross income from all sources)
After taxes and insurance:
Home Insurance: $
Car payment: $
Gas and toll: $
Car insurance: $
Recuring bills: $
Monthly surplus: $
Non-liquid Assets: (here place things you own like real estate, vehicles, furniture, clothing, etc.)
Liquid Assets: (here list checking, savings, investments, cash and so on)
Total Assets: $