Be Fruitful, and Multiply, and Replenish the Earth

Upon creating man and woman, the Genesis account records:

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28 KJV

For Latter-day Saints, this verse invokes God’s first commandment, that is, to have family and children, that we might have joy and rejoicing in our posterity. As I think of my younger years being married in the 1970s, heavily influenced by Lex de Acevedo’s Saturday’s Warrior, we moved forward quickly to have five daughters, anxiously interested in being fruitful and multiplying so that all those waiting, pre-mortal children might come down. Now, nearly half a century later, I have to wonder, “What was I thinking?” Not that having children wasn’t delightful, and I absolutely do have joy in my five daughters, four sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law, and nine grandchildren.

But when our youngest left us with an empty nest, our grand purpose of being was no longer present. And, as it turns out, the prior decade or so wasn’t so pleasant as we experienced the “joys” of being parents of teenage girls. I almost think that God gave us the opportunity to be parents over adolescents in order to not be so upset when they leave… But in fact, we weren’t so much upset, but that because we followed the plan of husband presiding over the family and providing the necessities of life, and the mother nurturing children, we no longer had any daily purpose. I had become so much of a “provider” that my work responsibilities took me to India for a few years, while my wife, who having a college degree chose to follow the plan in staying at home, had virtually nothing to do in the empty house. It was a very dark time for us.

It gives me pause to consider how “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth applied to us in these years. It also seems to me that it doesn’t apply to many others, who for myriad reasons are not called to be parents. Perhaps there we can find a deeper meaning beyond procreation.

Be fruitful. In her book “Just Sex,” feminist theologian Margaret Farley writes, “Beyond the kind of fruitfulness that brings forth biological children, there is a kind of fruitfulness that is a measure, perhaps, of all interpersonal love.” She goes on to explain, “… love brings new life to those who love. The new life within the relationship of those who share it may move beyond itself in countless ways: nourishing other relationships; providing goods, services, and beauty for others; informing the fruitful work lives of the partners in relation; helping to raise other people’s children; and on and on. All of these ways and more may constitute the fruit of a love for which persons in relation are responsible.”

Multiply. Loving relationships create synergy, that the relationship is more than the sum of the parts. I married my opposite, and for a long time, I simply relied on my wife to cover the gap in me. In effect I was making myself weaker and exploiting her. This isn’t love. After she broke down and ended up in a psych ward, I came to realize that love is about being more than myself. As I subsequently became trained in Ignatian Spirituality, I understand this as the “more” or “magis” that calls is to go beyond ourselves. In LDS terms we say we “magnify our calling”. And William James, along with Marcus Borg speak of God as being the “more.”

Replenish the earth. The verse in Genesis quoted above speaks of how Adam and Eve should “subdue and have dominion” over the earth and everything in it. This idea finds resonance in “dominionism:” the notion that man (male of course) is to dominate over all the earth. Thus, the exploitation of natural resources is not a problem; man can take anything he needs because god gave man dominion. Environmentalism is evil because it denies man his dominion. This extends, in my view, to reproductive multiplying beyond our ability to sustain our children. Exponential biological growth is neither sustainable nor responsible, notwithstanding Lex de Acevedo’s Mormon mythology. I would like to think that “Replenish the earth” speaks to stewardship of the earth, that we humans have a responsibility not only to environmental care, but also to “repair the earth”—the mystical Hebrew expression “tikkun olam”. Our responsibility is to find the shards of divine light in and through all things and bring them into wholeness.

So I think there is a better way to apply the words, “Be fruitful, and Multiply, and Replenish the Earth.”

What do you think?

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