No matter our age, gender or status in life, we can find ourselves wondering “Why am I here,” or “What am I supposed to be doing?” We may be discerning a life-impacting decision such as a career change, or an everyday concern like how to prepare meals while also attending Zoom meetings. We may have heard “God has a plan for your life,” but what does that mean? Is that about our central spiritual questions like how to get to heaven or whether or not to enter religious life, or can it impact us in the day-to-day as well?
When pondering the concerns of life, it is always beneficial to look at God’s Word on the subject. We may wonder what 73 books of poetry, history, lament, genealogy and biography from 2000 years ago can possibly mean for our lives today. When we look at the Bible as a whole, however, what we discover is that several traits of God’s plan for humanity spring from its opening chapters and appear repeatedly in the other books. By exploring these, we can learn God’s intent in creating us.
The first two chapters of Genesis reveal that God created everything: the universe, the world and all the plant and animal life of the earth. Reading through this section we hear repeated words and phrases that demonstrate the organized method of God’s creating. With the creation of humans, the language changes. God makes humans uniquely in his “image.” (Gen. 1:26) Since this is not said about any other creature, it suggests men and women, while still creatures, are somehow closer to God than the rest of creation.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, being made in God’s image is the foundation of our dignity. (CCC 357) Since we know God is good, moral, loving and wise, we discover that God’s plan in our creation is for us to be good, moral, loving and wise. This dignity and these attributes may be a starting point for us to ponder when considering our lives.
God also gives humans responsibilities in Eden. Like the animals, God “blesses” them and tells them to “be fruitful and multiply.” In addition, God tells the humans to “subdue” the earth and have “dominion” over the animals. (Gen. 1:28) This is not permission to exploit the land and animals in a negative way, but rather to steward creation, harness it for good use. Thus, God’s plan for humanity is to continue to nurture creation and participate in his creative actions.
This sharing of responsibility with God involves a combination of work, support and rest. Adam is to “cultivate” and “care for” the garden. (Gen. 2:15) Cultivating references farming. The Hebrew word translated care also means protectand guard. Thus, Adam is commanded to work! We might think of work as a punishment but even in Eden, well-ordered work is part of God’s plan.
The catechism points out that as creatures made in God’s image, we work just as God did, and our work is a duty and honors the gifts and talents God has given us. (CCC 2427) All work–whether in a field, home, office, hospital, retail store and so on–has value. God desires for us to work with him in our work.
While Adam is commanded to cultivate and care for the Garden, Eve is given a slightly different role. She is to be Adam’s “helper.” (Gen. 2:18) The Hebrew behind this word suggests someone who stands next to another in support. It is often translated as partner, but never as slave or servant. Eve is to be a support to Adam so that together they can continue God’s work on earth.
There is also rest from work. As God rested on the seventh day, he later commanded humanity to rest with him. (Gen. 2:2-3, Exod. 20:8-11) Biblical resting is not about napping; it is about being present to, abiding with those around us. God commands humanity to take a day away from work to be present to one another, to creation and to him. Resting with God and with one another gives us time to renew, refresh and receive peace and grace for the work we are called to do.
In sum, the opening two chapters of Genesis reveal that God created humanity in his image, and he plans for us to continue his creative work while supporting and resting with each other and with him. As we explore further into the Bible, we discover more examples of God’s plan for us. All people, from anonymous peasants to named kings, share in certain responsibilities and ways of life that stem from creation.
As creatures made in God’s image, we are called to be holy as God is holy. (Lev. 19:2) At its most foundational level, holiness means being set apart from things not of God. While only some people are ordained as priests to offer sacrifices, everyone is called to be holy by helping pass on the faith and resisting worldly temptations. This makes God’s people a priestly people as they live holy lives in the world day in and day out. (Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9, 1 Pet. 1:15, 2:5; Rom. 12:1; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph.s 1:4)
Throughout the Bible, God raises up people to be prophets. They have many types of prophetic activities including intercession (Abraham, Moses), working miracles (Elijah, Elisha), calling people back to God (Jeremiah, John the Baptist), praising God (Miriam, Anna), challenging leadership for leaving God (Nathan, Samuel) and even leading the military (Deborah). These prophets look to the heart of relationship with God where the covenant guides our choices.
Finally, there are those that God raises up to an executive-level of stewardship: the Judges and the Kings. An ancient king had the dual responsibility of protecting his kingdom and providing for it, thus following in Adam’s footsteps of cultivating and caring. It is the same type of position Peter is given in the Church. (Matt. 16:18-19)
These three roles of priest, prophet and king are all found in our own lives, and we are anointed to them in our baptism. (CCC 1241)
As priests, we avoid temptation and bring God’s sense of holiness into everything we do. Many biblical characters offer examples of how to live this way as they seek to learn God’s ways, pray to God for help and live out God’s law and vision in their daily lives. This often includes making hard choices that go against cultural norms. God’s plan is for us to bring this same holiness into our lives and areas of influence today.
Biblical prophets were the mediators between God and the people. We live as prophets when we support others where they are in their journeys to God. Just as there are many roles for prophets in the Bible, we live our prophetic roles in many different ways today through such actions as service, intercessory prayer or having the right words to say. God’s plan is for us to be a light to others, and he wants the world to be blessed through us. (Isa. 42:6, 49:6; Matt. 5:14, Gen. 22:18) These happen when we live our prophetic role.
We may find our responsibility as king the least obvious. Most of us are not leading nations, yet, like Adam, we are all called to steward well what God has given us. Biblical characters, from widows to kings, reveal that this happens in the day-to-day actions of life as we safeguard ourselves and those under our care, manage our resources well, take time to rest with God and use the gifts God has given to us.
The opening chapters of Genesis reveal God’s overarching plan for humanity, and the rest of the Bible explores that plan in specific times and places. Scripture provides us with inspirational examples of people who live God’s plan well. There are also dire warnings through what happens to and around those who do not. Every book faces the challenge that we do not live in Eden anymore, but each also provides hope that we can still live within God’s plan if we remember how we were created and who we are called to be.