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A few weeks ago I wrote about God’s Very First Commandment, which is, “Be fruitful and multiply.” One of the things that came out of that discussion was that God has designed the world to sustain His favored creatures—us. This spoke, in part, to God’s providence concerning material things. In this post I would like to ponder further upon God’s Very First Commandment and pursue some thoughts regarding God’s providence concerning the life of the spirit and how the command to “be fruitful and multiply” has set in motion a “law of multiplication.”
What do I mean by a “law of multiplication?” Have you ever noticed that good deeds often beget good deeds? Likewise, evil seems to beget evil? For instance, a simple smile at the cashier’s line in the grocery store can go a long way to smoothing out tensions that might be mounting when the person in front of you wants to pay a fifty-two dollar bill with quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies, all of which, of course, are not sorted. That simple smile might just be what the cashier and the customer need to make it through the day without snapping. That little seed, sown with tenderness and love, blossoms into eternity.
A goofy example, perhaps, but I have been there. I remember, distinctly, during my junior year in college practically shriveling up in a corner in the commons. Stress and physical fatigue where winning out and I was seriously considering throwing in the towel. A fellow student, with whom I was acquainted but didn’t know well, approached me and gently said, “Take a break if you must, but don’t give in and don’t give up.” Those simple words gave me the strength to push on. I graduated and, long story short, I am writing you this blog today. I often shudder to think how my life might have turned out had I decided to drop out of college that day.
On the other hand, a scowl, harsh word, or a sharp smack to the side of someone’s head seems to echo into the future as well, and this in a most terrible fashion. How many of us know a family whose head of the household has a drinking problem, or an anger management issue, or is emotionally unavailable (name your poison)—and has passed that problem on to one or more of their children?
I think my point is made: our actions, whether good or bad, tend to multiply in effect. I propose that this is so because of God’s first commandment. In a world before the Fall, where all of creation was pristinely good and where the human person was properly oriented, this commandment, “Be fruitful and multiply,” was meant to reflect God’s glory and to continue to show forth and communicate it (CCC 293). It still is. We are meant to magnify the Lord, and during our pre-Fall existence it was easy to do.
What we have to understand, however, is that the Fall did not make null and void the way God set up the universe. The law of multiplication is still in effect. This is why, I believe, Paul counsels and encourages the Corinthians thusly:
God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
—2 Corinthians 9:8, 10
I believe a similar sentiment is reflected in the parable of the talents. Recall that the Master became angry with the man who did not multiply his gifts (Matthew 25:14-30).
The main take-away then is this: To “be fruitful and multiply” in the spiritual sense is to recognize that a law of multiplication is in effect. Things we do snowball into great catalysts. Be careful, therefore of what you sow. If you sow the wind, you will reap a whirlwind (Hosea 8:7).
I enjoyed your thoughts on Genesis 1:28 very inspiring exhortation towards living a life of kindness and generosity. Thank you. I too for a long time ascribed to those words as being a commandment or a precept. What I would like to offer is that this interpretation might mean something more as pointed out in the footnotes of my Catholic Bible. Here is the entire quote, “Ver. 28. Increase and multiply. This is not a precept, as some Protestant controvertists would have it, but a blessing, rendering them fruitful; for God has said the same words to the fishes and the birds, (ver. 22) who were incapable of receiving a precept.” This blessing to be fruitful not only caused man to multiply but to subdue the earth by ruling over what God had created as ver. 28 also instructs us. Since this blessing was given by God to man before man fell from grace, I wonder if there would be a need for any precepts. Yet, we do know of one: not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Ver. 2:17). But why would God give this commandment to them that were without sin? Perhaps it is as St. Augustines points out: “God laid this easy command upon Adam, to give him an opportunity of shewing his ready obedience, and to assert his own absolute dominion over him. Eve was already formed, and was apprised of this positive command, (C. iii. 3.) and therefore, transgressing, is justly punished with her husband. True obedience does not inquire why a thing is commanded, but submits without demur.”* The first commandment then is not to eat of the one tree in the garden. Why did God give it? God is reminding man that man is not God. The first commandment then is “obey God!” God lovingly gave all to man through the blessing of being fruitful and multiplying. All He asked in return was to love Him with a simple loving, and may I add very small, act of self denial. Adam and Eve were very fruitful and multiplied but they did not honor God by obeying. I wonder what would happen to this world if we do what Adam and Eve did not do by giving God His due first?
*iPeta, Haydock Biblical Commentary