I don’t know if you have, but I have come across believers who seem to think that the imperatives “be fruitful and multiply” in Genesis are commands. They draw the conclusion from this that it is the duty of humans everywhere, and especially of Christians, to be busy reproducing themselves. This belief sometimes even afflicts persons who have studied grammar in general and Hebrew grammar in particular and do not manage to draw the conclusion that imperatives are used for a range of syntactical functions. They assume that if the mode is imperative, the intent is a command.
But an imperative is not always used to command. When we plead we use the imperative mode, but we do not use it to command. When we persuade, we may resort to the imperative mode, but we do not therefore command. God, of course, is the being best suited to command. And how God commands! But there is something else God is eminently suited to do which requires the imperative mode but does not exactly function as a direct command: God blesses. It can be viewed as a command if it is taken as the same command made to plants and trees. Let’s assume they are commanded to be fruitful and multiply after their kind. Fine, and there is a sense in which it is a command they cannot resist. But it is worth pointing out that plants don’t really have a choice. The whole point of making the blessing of fertility a command is to drive people to a choice, isn’t it? If we make it a command we expect obedience or disobedience.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be a command, but it should make us think about how exactly we are to take the imperative. That is is a blessing means that nothing can stop the fructification and multiplication of these things, and that that is what God intended. Think about it: after the brutality and carnage of the last century, in spite of the war on the unborn and everything else the human race is doing there are more humans than ever before. Why? Because nobody can revoke God’s blessing. That is the imperative power of that mode of speech. It isn’t because God needs us to be diligently reproductive or we’ll somehow also fail in that area.
Which brings me to the so-called Cultural Mandate–an irritating term. Is it a command? You subdue the earth? Christians, engage the world! Christians use it as something to be obeyed or disobeyed. But is it? Or does it work like a blessing, meaning that the world will become what we human beings want? I think the latter, and I think what it works out to is that it gives us the power to make the world what we want. I read about WWI and I think: we made the world what we wanted. I think of the old fear of running out of oil and now see that we now have more than ever before: we make the world what we want it to be. The danger of this blessing is that we make of the world what we want it to be. I don’t mean individuals arbitrarily, but all of us in concert as in the tower of Babel. Now in the more fragmentary way after being divided, but we still manage largish chunks. Think of the tyrannizing image Richard Weaver speaks about. We believe what we want so we can do what we want and we make the world what we want it to be. That is the power of a dream, a metaphysical dream of the world.