The Dominion Deal

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.”  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  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” (Genesis 1:26-28 NRS).

Did you catch it?  People are always saying that “God gave man dominion over the Earth.”  But it’s not there.  God gave humankind dominion over the fish, the birds, the cattle, the wild animals on the land, and the creeping things aka. the insects, but not the land, the ocean, the air, or any other aspect of the Earth.  God does tell humankind to fill the Earth and subdue it.  Subdue means to bring under control, sometimes by use of force.  Since Adam was placed in the garden of Eden to till the ground, “subdue” appears to have the connotation of agriculture.  This makes perfect sense since, at first, humankind were expected to live off of the plants, rather than eat meat.  “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’ ” (Genesis 1:29 NRS).  God does not speak in context of the entire planet, Planet Earth, but mentions earth as in the ground, where the dirt and plants are found. 

(Image courtesy of

Beautiful, isn’t it?  That is Earth from outer space.  Perhaps that is one of the perspectives God has.  When I hear people speak about the planet, there is this sense that God handed us this giant orb of air, rock, and water.  But I just don’t find that in scripture.  I find that God created this place, created us and put us here.  God created all the flora and fauna that inhabit it alongside us, but the way I hear some claim we have free reign to use the Earth as we please… well, I’m just not so sure.  We are told to subdue the earth (the ground), not to enslave air, land, and sea.  The only divine purpose in subduing the ground is so we can make it yield food.  In the second creation story, the ground (the adamah) was barren because “God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (Genesis 2:5).  God created the first man (Adam) then “put him in the garden of Eden to till and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).  This sounds less like domination and more like stewardship.

I liken humankind’s relationship with the Earth to babysitting.  When I, the parent, need to go somewhere and have someone else watch my child, I give them control over my child.  Not to beat him, abuse him, or use him for their own purposes, but to watch over him, keep him safe, and return him to me when I come back.  Which do you think God has in mind?  Considering that Jesus promises to come back at the end of time and reign over all the Earth, I’m inclined to think that Jesus doesn’t want to come back to something that we have used and abused, but something that we have held in sacred trust and kept safe for him to reclaim.  If this is so, then we have a duty to care for this gift, this creation from God’s own hands.  We have a sacred call to be good stewards and to not destroy the Earth as a means to our own ends.  This does not mean that we should not use the natural resources of this world to live, but we have to do so responsibly and weigh the cost of our actions.  Sometimes, the price may indeed be too high to pay.  But we will never know unless we reconsider how we are supposed to be in relationship with God’s creation, in relationship with what we hold in trust.  This planet is ours in one sense, but God’s in another.  It was here before we were, and it will be here after we die.  So perhaps we should consider what we are doing to it now.

Lord of Heaven and Earth,
With your word you created the world and all the life within it.
In great care you ordered life in the skies, the land, and the seas.
May we mirror you in our great care of this sacred gift.
We have not always been good stewards of your blessings.
We squander our gifts.
We abuse what you place in our control.
We become selfish and destroy without thought of others.
Much less our thoughts of you.
Reveal to us a new way to being;
A new way of living in harmony with the creation that sustains us.
When we must use creation to keep us alive,
May we do so with care and dignity to the life which we must consume.
Forgive us of our trespasses against you.
Through your Grace we will find the strength to be good stewards.


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