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A Dominion Directive (Part 1)

As per my last post on “imago Dei,” I want to delve deeper into Genesis 1:26-28:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth”

Two quick disclaimers before I begin.

1)    This series of thought-exercises I’ve undertaken are my thoughts meant for the exercise of your mind.  I’m not arguing from a “If you don’t love Gordon Gekko-style capitalism, or don’t see support of such behavior in Scripture, then you’re not a Christian” position.  I’m humbly offering how I came to the socio-economic conclusions I did.

2)   I hate the movie Wall Street nearly as much as I hate Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps.

We read in these verses above that: God says what He is going to do (i.e. make man in His image, let him have dominion over the earth); does these things He said he was going to do; and a few verses later (31) says that these things He said he was going to do – and then did – are “good.”

Dominion is a good thing.  Before sin entered the world Adam was given work to do, and told that he was the foreman of the planet.  In Genesis 3, after The Fall, Adam is still the working foreman, still has dominion, and still is supposed to “subdue” the earth.  God warns him, however, that things will be difficult and toilsome and that death is now a reality because of his (and the woman’s) choices.

But what does dominion mean?  What does subduing the earth look like?

The term “subdue” (in Hebrew, “kabash”) is used in the Old Testament to describe when someone takes control of a piece of land or group of people and subjugates it (or them) with the express purpose of yielding a benefit from it (or them).  The earth is not only Michael Jordan’s playground, but also mankind’s laboratory.  One of the most important implications of this verse is that human beings are to cultivate, investigate, develop, and look after the planet (and its resources).  I also believe that this logically includes the cultivation and development of ideas themselves.  Some ways of doing things are verifiably better than others.  It’s not good subjugation to continually re-tread ineffective (and in some cases, disastrous) suggestions.

The main idea is that we are to derive benefits from what God has blessed us with and given us stewardship over.

God knew that mankind would feel tempted to worship nature because of how awe-inspiring it can be, not to mention the fact that nature has no discernable moral code to hold us to (save the one we arbitrarily decide to construct for ourselves).  He knew that we would mistake the creation for the Creator.

This, I believe, is a big reason He made sure to give us dominion over nature.  If we found out that it (nature) is subservient to us, we might be more inclined to remember that we, in turn, are subservient to Him.

We might, perhaps, learn to thank Him in light of the former and worship Him in light of the latter.

There is, unmistakably, a pecking order in God’s universe, and while He is over and above all things, He graciously gave us rank and responsibility over and above nature.

As is the case with all positions of leadership and responsibility, there are perks and there are duties.  I would venture to say that one perk of having dominion over nature is that we can subdue the earth to the extent that we establish civilizations, which affords us the opportunity to create things like art and poetry.  Rats and aardvarks ain’t got nothing on iambic pentameter.  But it’s not supposed to be all fun and games.  Our duties include the aforementioned “toilsome” work that thousands of years after the events of Genesis Saint Paul will teach that “a man shall not eat” if he won’t do.

Will Rogers once wrote, “Freedom isn’t free.”  Well, neither is dominion, folks.

If you are like many modern Americans, the very notion of human beings being more important than nature may be jolting to the senses.  In truth, this notion shouldn’t be anything but an interesting blend of humbling and comforting.  Christ speaks of our superior worth in Matthew 7 when he says:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?

I can’t tell you why everything is the way it is, but I can tell you how things are.  God made us in His image, and subsequently we have (conditional) dominion, responsibility to subdue the earth, and the capabilities to create, innovate, develop, and improve the world around us.  As I say, this dominion isn’t unlimited – both in its scope or moral liability.  Human beings can’t fix or solve or control everything, as clearly evidenced with any of the recent natural disasters around the globe.  Human beings also cannot simply do whatever they want to the earth and its resources.  Stewardship (a theological concept I will explore in the not-too-distant future) is an impediment not only to exploitation, but to indifference to exploitation.

As far as a socio-economic worldview is concerned, Scripture doesn’t just suggest dominion, productivity, and development of natural resources – it commands it.  Appreciating that we live in an imperfect world, and that we won’t always get to reside in the most God-honoring system of government and/or economy, I say that the primary concern of a follower of Christ ought to be what God’s standard is.  Christians living in China, Iran, and even Socialist Europe have very little say or sway in how their government and economic marketplaces function.  Traditionally, Americans have had much more opportunity to mold and shape their culture, and as the saying goes: “politics” is down-stream of culture.

Therefore, I believe that part of my job as a believer in the public square is to –as best I can – advocate and vote for people, ideas, and mechanisms that – as best they can – honor and pursue my biblical worldview.

In Part II of The Dominion Directive I will contemplate, among other things: how all this practically translates to support for free enterprise, as well as the view of “work” that emanates from the understanding of Scripture I’ve articulated today.