What is Our Purpose? Take Two

By Mark D. Roberts

May 30, 2015

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

Genesis 2:15


A couple of weeks ago, we considered the question: What is our purpose as human beings? Genesis 1:28 provided an answer based on God’s command: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion . . . .” This so-called “cultural mandate” suggests that our purpose is to make, shape, and steward culture, that is, to take the “good stuff” of this world and make more “good stuff.”

Today, we’ll begin to consider the question of our purpose as human beings from a different perspective. Unlike Genesis 1:28, 2:15 does not contain a divine imperative, but rather a statement of God’s intentions when he made the first man (and, implicitly, all other human beings). Thus, we catch a glimpse of why God made us and how we can live out his intentions for us.

A few verses earlier, God “formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (2:7). Then God planted a garden and put the man there (2:8). At this point, the narrative turns to the natural features of the garden called Eden (2:9-15), especially its trees and rivers. Verse 15 picks up where verse 8 left off: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Now we learn not only that God put the man in the garden, but also why: namely, “to till it and keep it.”

In the narrative of Genesis, these verbs have a literal sense. The garden of Eden requires someone to work it and preserve it. Someone besides God needs to dig up the soil, prune the trees, gather the fruit, and pull the weeds. God did not create the garden with magic powers of regeneration and self-preservation. Rather, he determined that human effort would be necessary for the productivity and well-being of the garden.

If we read Genesis 2:15 metaphorically, we can see ourselves in this story. Though we no longer live in pristine Eden, and though most of us are not actual farmers, God has put us in the world so that we might “till it and keep it.” The world will not be what God intends it to be apart from our effort, including your effort. You are one of God’s tillers and keepers, so to speak.

In the upcoming Life for Leaders devotions, I want to dig deeper into the meaning and implications of tilling and keeping. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on this story, seeing yourself as one whom God intends to till and keep his garden.


As you read this story, how do you respond? In what ways do you “till” in your life? In what ways do you “keep”? Do you think of your life as an essential part of God’s plan for the world? How might the perspective of Genesis 2:15 shape the way you live today?


Gracious God, thank you for showing us why you put us in this world. Thank you for choosing to till and keep your world through us. It’s an honor and privilege to be working with and for you.

Lord, help me understand how the metaphors of tilling and keeping might shape my work today. May I see myself as part of your plan for the world. May my efforts contribute to its fruitfulness and welfare. Amen.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

More on Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Learn Learn Learn Learn

the Life for Leaders newsletter

Learn Learn Learn Learn