Continuing an explanation of what I coin as the Stewardculture Triad: our response to God, our response to God’s creation, our response to each other.
I’ll outline principle No. 2: Our response to God’s creation.
Our right response to creation first is a clear understanding that God is the source of creation, His creative and loving expression of revelation and provision for man. Creation points to God while being a place where humans can thrive according to His blessing and a place that fosters worship of Him. Simply stated, our response to God’s creation is stewardship. I’ll explain.
Since God is the one who called creation into existence, designed it with His omniscience knowing He would place man onto the Earth, it is God who is the rightful owner of all of creation, including the Earth and however man may subdivide the Earth. Knowing who the owner is, should begin to inform man’s attitude and ideas toward the Earth. As humans, we have no title to the Earth other than what commands we have from the Owner Himself. Our right response to God’s creation is first acknowledgement that we do not own any portion of the Earth. Instead, it is all owned by God who spoke it into existence and uses it to His good will to execute His righteousness and eternal plan.
Even the man many refer to as the godfather of permaculture, Bill Mollison, acknowledged that there is a universal response to creation. He wrote that religious people will find a natural affinity to the ideas supported by permaculture. In his Permaculture Designers’ Manual he spells out that when believers “generalize love and respect to all living systems as a witness to the potential of creation, they too will join the many of us now deeply appreciating the complexity and self-sustaining properties of natural systems, from whole universes to simple molecules. Gardener, scientist, philosopher, poet, and adherent of religions all can conspire in admiration of, and reverence for, this earth.”
Though Mr. Mollison’s acknowledgement is a bit lacking as to the Designer of creation and leads a bit too close to Earth worship, he is right in that we should have a very deep appreciation of God’s work and that appreciation should lead us to worship of the Creator and stewardship of His creation.
Believers, then, when examining the Genesis account, will find that we are given responsibility as a result of our relationship to God and His creation. I articulate this responsibility as stewardculture.
Because we are put here by God as is accounted in Genesis, everyone has a role in the stewardship of creation. Every human as a living creation designed by God is living in a place He designed has a responsibility to the creation. Mollison continued in this thinking, saying, “all of us have some part in identifying, supporting, recommending, investing in” stewarding God’s creation. “Respect for all life forms is a basic, and in fact essential, ethic for all people.” Though Mollison is making this moderately bold statement, it still falls short of the fact that it is not only “essential” we all have an appropriate response to God’s creation, it is basic obedience to God. Thus, it is sin when we exploit His creation.
In his writing on natural systems agriculture, Wes Jackson shared that we need to look to nature, as he put it, to find the solutions to our problems. Though Jackson was largely referring to technically applying the lessons of nature, he hints at the idea of stewardship as an appropriate response to God’s creation. He wrote, “The history of earth abuse, the recent dependency on fossil fuels, chemicals, and the genetic narrowing of major crops, underline that the problem of agriculture cannot be solved on the basis that nature is to be subdued or ignored.”
Indeed, the problems we face now as a result of industrial agriculture will not be solved by man’s attempt to subdue nature or by ignorance of nature. It will be by observing God’s planned design that we will find our redemption in agriculture just as we find our redemption of sins in the design of the plan for Christ Jesus.
If only we would understand the purpose for the vast diversity that is found in creation. For when we understand the need for diversity, we are learning how to be better stewards of creation and obedient to God’s command.
Some ecological conditions might work for a world full of just a few kinds of animals or plants, but obviously God did not want a monotonous planet. So He designed an earth that hosts a massive variety of life form kinds. According to James Johnson, Th.D., befitting God’s own divine essence – the ultimate source of (and ultimate logic for) all created life and variety – God’s all-encompassing plan was for a diversity of creatures (plant and animal) to populate and fill His creation. And because He loves beauty, God even chose to integrate His eye-pleasing artistry into the variety of His creatures and the wide array of their respective habitats.
What I hope we all observe is the beauty, the wholeness, that is found in the work of stewarding God’s creation.
Do we have dominion right?
God’s dominion mandate to Adam described in Genesis 1 cannot defensibly be used as an apologetic for extractive and exploitative use of Earth’s resources – or more conservatively stated as misusing creation for man’s benefit. Instead, I will illustrate that the context of the creation account points to a better understanding of dominion as being an obedient and observant caretaker in the role of steward on God’s behalf. The text in discussion is Genesis 1:26-28:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; 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 rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Subjected and downtrodden, the Earth is a witness itself of an erroneous understanding of the Hebrew word, רָדָה (raw-daw’). An honest assessment of the planet’s watersheds, soils, extinction rates, air quality, ozone structure, and ill humans would be a litmus revealing that our current industrial and economic practices, whether they be agricultural or otherwise, are injurious to the created biosphere, thus could not be what was behind the dominion mandate. Though subjugation and treading down are literal translations of רָדָה, most careful readers of the creation account easily accept to rule or to reign over as good understandings of this Hebrew term often translated as dominion. If that is the case, why is there controversy – or at least different understandings – in application or adherence to the mandate?
I believe that at the heart of using Genesis 1:26-28 to defend exploitative practices is avarice and then to rationalize personal desires. Yet, I will also concede that ignorance of the truth of scripture would also lead someone simply to follow common practice of exploitation of Earth’s resources. But, a reader of the Bible cannot claim ignorance in this case.
I am not convinced that even redeemed believers who are connected to the land have universal agreement about what constitutes dominion and therefore what our subsequent response and should be as a result of the mandate.
Is it a command?
Let me first dispense with the notion that there is no command for dominion. I believe that the language used in this passage is the Hebrew imperative, and therefore establishes God’s direction to Adam as a command.
Admittedly, the verses do not contain the specific Hebrew word צָוָה (tsaw-vaw’) that we would most often translate as command, but that should not dissuade us. Many imperative statements are given in the Bible that do not use צָוָה to convey the idea of command. Gen. 6:14, 21 are two good near-in-time examples. I doubt that few if any would claim these verses are not commands by God to Noah to build an arc and to take provisions with him.
In partial support of the idea that the dominion mandate is an actual command, we have a key example of God giving specific instructions to the Hebrews about caring for His land. In Leviticus 25, God spells out that the Israelites are to adopt conservation land-management practice of letting the land rest every seven years and every fiftieth year. In his book, The Pentateuch as Narrative, John H. Sailhamer helps us see the spiritual purpose of this Sabbath, which then also has a practical land-management purpose. He wrote:
In its overall plan, the Sabbath year was to be a replication of God’s provisions for humankind in the Garden of Eden. When God created human beings and put them into the Garden, they were not to work for their livelihood but were to worship . . . So also in the Sabbath year, each person was to share equally in all the good of God’s provision (Lev 25:6). In the Garden, God provided for the man and woman an eternal rest (cf. Gen 2:9, the Tree of Life; 3:22b) and time of worship, the Sabbath (Gen 2:3). The Sabbath year was a foretaste of that time of rest and worship. Here, as on many other occasions, the writer has envisioned Israel’s possession of the ‘good land’ promised to them as a return to the Garden of Eden.
I do not believe God would give such specific instructions to the Hebrews about land management if He did not want to reinforce His ownership of creation, His desire for their obedience, and proper stewardship of what He had provided for them. Yes, the Sabbaths are a key demonstration of trust in God and our worship of Him, but they are also practical in our stewardship of God’s created work.
By pointing out God’s Sabbath instructions to the Hebrews I am not making the claim that we are to follow Mosaic law today in the Church Age. Paul’s teaching, especially his letters to the Galatians and Colossians, would help us to avoid that kind of syncretism with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But, we can be edified by the Creator’s instructions by gleaning insights into the very nature of God and our relationship with Him.
Sequence of creation is telling
It may be important to our understanding of רָדָה if we examine when the dominion mandate was given, that is, where in the sequence of creation was it established. To do so, it is helpful to review basic milestones in the creation account germane to this discussion. A simple list can be as follows:
- First, there was the Godhead
- The Godhead created the structures of creation including the Earth
- The Godhead vegetated the Earth
- The Godhead gave day and night their place
- The Godhead then populated the water and the air with creatures
- The Godhead populated the land with creatures
- The Godhead made man in Their image and gave man reign over other creatures
- The Godhead established reproductive relationships to populate the Earth
- The Godhead commanded man to subdue and reign over every creature
- The Godhead announced plants as food for man and other creatures
- The Godhead viewed it all as very good
God Himself described creation as good and very good. Due to this Divine declaration, which is made prior to the fall, what we then can know of creation would indicate that it did not need improvement. It did not need changing, for according to the text, all the food necessary for man and animal was available – and by God’s design described by the text, was self perpetuating. So dominion has to be about more than just provision of food.
Yet, if dominion was given before the fall while Adam had all provision possible, for what then was dominion? Unless there was extra-biblical revelation by God, how would Adam know what to do in order to exercise dominion? Why was dominion needed in a setting that was described by the Divine Creator as very good? What did Adam and Eve lack at the time of Genesis 1:26-28 in this timeline?
Certainly God, in His omniscience, could foresee that man would fall and therefore would have to live differently than was originally put in place. But, why did God give this imperative in a pre-fall context? Was the Earth somehow in need of man’s interaction of some kind?
For those who make the assumption that dominion and subduction must be for the benefit of mankind, I ask how that revelation is evident in the text. As I read it, man’s benefit through dominion is not explicit in the Genesis 1 account. It might be someone’s assumption, but it is not explicit. For provision for Adam and Eve and all the creatures was already present and perpetual.
If רָדָה is not the basis for man’s use or exploitation of the planet’s resources, then how are we to understand the mandate? As Lee Canipe explains in his article about this topic, we must look more carefully at the context of the scene. He wrote:
God does indeed call men and women to exercise רָדָה, or dominion, over creation. But the real question is: What sort of dominion? According to verse 27, the answer is clear: a dominion that is in the image, or likeness, of God. Humans, in other words, are to rule over creation in a way that is consistent with the way God rules.
A powerful idea, no doubt. Man, as image bearer of God, holds a special place in creation. He is God’s governor of creation. Not owner, not having rights, but having responsibilities. In short, this is the idea of stewardship. The simple understanding of dominion in this context is to practice dominion as God would.
Does that beg a question? Certainly, it must. We can find examples in scripture of God’s dominion of creation. It is in Psalm 72 where we will find an extremely relevant example of what kind of dominion God exercises of His creation. This is also where we find the Hebrew רָדָה, used in relation to God and His creation. David the psalmist describes God’s compassionate and life-giving approach to His creation describing just the kind of dominion that is godly. “When used in connection with God, the potentially violent connotations of רָדָה suggest instead a more generous sort of kingship.”
A goodly and godly steward is what I believe is what God intended when establishing the dominion mandate. The good king is caring of his subjects and does not subject them to ruin. Thus, man’s role is to serve as image bearers of God to steward His creation as the good King would.
Though the literal translations of רָדָה paint a nearly violent picture, I believe the context of the creation account interprets a better understanding of the dominion mandate, one of compassion and accountable stewardship.
Repeating, man’s response to God’s creation is godly and benevolent stewardship.
 Mollison, Bill; Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, page 9, Tagari Publications, 1988.
 Jackson, W., “Natural systems agriculture: a truly radical alternative,” Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 88 (2002) 111-117.
 Johnson, James; J.D., Th.D., “God fitted habitats for biodiversity,” Acts & Facts. 42 (3): 10-12, 2013; Institute for Creation Research.
 Sailhamer, John H., The Pentateuch as Narrative, p.361.
 Canipe, Lee. “Rethinking Dominion in Genesis 1:27-28” Christian Ethics Today. The Christian Ethics Today Foundation. Fall 2010 (Issue 80 Page 21). Ibid.