Welcome to Week 7 of our devotional series on those common Christian beliefs that have been overlooked or misunderstood. This week we turn the page back a bit to the first chapter in the Bible — Genesis 1 — and ask a thorny question about the word “dominion.” When scripture describes the world as our “domain,” what does that mean, and how does it reflect the image of God? What we find might surprise you.
God of All the Earth — guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will we might truly discover peace. Amen.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
“For the Beauty of the Earth” — Words by Folliott S. Pierpoint; Music by William Chatterton Dix; performed by Eli Eli (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies. Lord of all to Thee we raise This our hymn of grateful praise. For the beauty of each hour, Of the day and of the night, Hill and vale, and tree and flower, Sun and moon, and stars of light. (Refrain) For the joy of human love, Brother, sister, parent, child, Friends on earth and friends above, For all gentle thoughts and mild. (Refrain) For Thy church, that evermore Lifteth holy hands above, Offering up on every shore Her pure sacrifice of love. (Refrain) For Thyself, best Gift Divine. To the world so freely given, For that great, great love of Thine, Peace on earth and joy in Heaven. (Refrain)
The words “dominion” and “subdue” in Genesis 1:26-28 are misleading. When you read “dominion” in those verses, what comes to mind? I think of authoritarianism and dictatorship, selfishness and cruelty. I think of using everything and everyone around me for my own ends. But, that can hardly be what God intends for us, right? After all, it would go against his very nature as love (1 John 4:16).
One of my all-time favorite ways of describing the relationship we have with God is to call us his “partners.” Genesis 1:26-27 says we’re created us in God’s own image and in his own likeness. These are more expressions of purpose and intent than they are physical appearance or where we might be in the hierarchy of God’s created things. God has charged us to live in his world and to help it thrive. Every Sunday, we describe God in Trinitarian terms as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. These are the divine characteristics we’re supposed to “image” in our lives. We partner with God in his creative, redeeming, and sustaining work in the world, which Genesis 1 calls our “domain.”
This sort of divine imaging on our lives deeply resonates within me. A few months ago, a friend of mine asked a group of us, “If you could travel anywhere in the world at any time in history, where would you go and when?” A number of folks said they’d like to go back and talk to key people in history, like Jesus or Joan of Arc. Now, maybe it says something about me, but I didn’t say anything of the sort. Without hesitation, I said I wanted to fish the upper west coast before human settlement. I wanted to see pristine waters, magnificent salmon runs, and gorgeous old growth forests. That was my dream, and I’m afraid it might never happen, even in those places that remain largely untouched. Our world is changing.
Unfortunately, the conversation around taking care of our planet has been hijacked by politics. The big debate about climate change centers on who is at fault, but I think the much more important question is, “Who can help?” And the answer really is “All of us.” As Christians, we believe every single human being has been created in the image of God to love God’s whole world, whether we’re to blame for the changes that are happening or not. One of my kids’ favorite excuses for not wanting to clean up after friends come over is that they didn’t mess it up in the first place (which is debatable, but that’s beside the point). I tell them that I don’t care. We all clean up together because we want to live in a safe and clean house together. That’s being lovingly responsible for our domain.
But, there’s another element to all of this missing from the current climate conversation, too — and that’s the element of hope. As Jim Antal, author of Climate Church, Climate World, reminds us, “Hope is the most important contribution people of faith can and must make as humanity confronts the climate crisis.” Why hope? Because we believe we are not alone. That’s the other side to Genesis 1. We are God’s partners born in God’s own image and empowered by God’s own Spirit. We aren’t without hope because we’re not without God — and neither is our world.
Holy God of Life and Resurrection, give us a good vision for our world and hope for its future. Keep making us in your image so that we can love and serve your creation as you would. Amen.
– Jim Antal, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change (New York, NY: Roman & Littlefield, 2018).