Stewardship Or Dominion?
© 6.28.06 By D. Eric Williams
Lately it has become fashionable for Christians to talk about their duty to be good stewards of creation. Sounds good. Untrue however. The Bible nowhere tells us to be stewards of creation.
If we have been burdened with a stewardship, it is a stewardship of the mystery of the Gospel. A steward is a manager, someone who keeps things running smoothly but doesn't mess with the underlying formula that produces the object of his attention. He does just what he's told to do and leaves innovation to "The Man." The apostle Paul said that he was a steward of the doctrines of God. He wasn't supposed to come up with his own ideas or make improvements. He was just supposed to see to it that the machinery ran according to plan. Certainly that was a major responsibility. It remains so today.
One who considers himself a steward of creation sees his job as maintaining the delicate balance of nature. A steward approaches creation gingerly, nervous lest he manages the rain forest improperly and the world loses a potential cure for athlete's foot.
Stewardship of creation elevates nature to a place it is not supposed to occupy. To the unregenerate, this results in worship of creation. For the Believer, it results in a divided mind and an inability to do much of anything constructive in the realm of environmental affairs. The best the Christian community can do is to jump on board the band wagon of the world and try to baptize the neo-pagan agenda of the green groups.
The Bible says that when God created mankind, He commanded him to fill the earth, to subdue it and to exercise dominion in imitation of His own work ethic. God's work ethic (so to speak), is displayed in the way that He went about the business of subduing the earth and taking dominion over it. We may be uncomfortable describing God's creative activity with terms like "subdue" and "dominion" because it seems to imply that God happened upon the stuff of creation one day while out for a stroll and decided to take charge of the situation. There are those who believe this way; yet the Bible clearly says that God created the time-space-matter universe out of nothing. He spoke into existence that which did not exist. As Creator, creation is automatically under His absolute power. But once He brought the universe into being, He moved through the process of creation in a manner which we could imitate. He subdued creation and took dominion.
The Hebrew word translated as "subdue" in Genesis 1:28 refers to using force to bring something or someone into submission. "It assumes that the party being subdued is hostile to the subduer, necessitating some sort of coercion if the subduing is to take place."1 The same word "connotes rape" in Esther 7:8 and "refers to forced servitude" elsewhere in the Bible.2 Thus man was commanded to subjugate creation and rule over the birds, the fish and land animals.3 What is conspicuous by its absence here in the Genesis account is the command to be a good steward of the created realm. There is no such mandate anywhere in the Bible.
God did not model stewardship but dominion. Specifically, after creating the raw material of the universe, God did three things; He apprehended creation, rearranged creation and improved upon creation. And if we are honest in our reading of the text we must admit that it was a violent4 process.
He started by forcefully dividing light and darkness. We think of the process as happening in a blink of an eye, silently, quickly and cleanly simply because the text tells us God spoke it into being. We forget that God's word had physical consequences. Why don't we envision God pouring off the smoking dross of darkness to reveal the molten brightness of light? In any case there is no reason to believe that the process of separation happened without violence to the physical elements of creation.
Moreover, we tend to think that God gently inserted a breezy little firmament into the frothy mist of water that was dispersed throughout the atmosphere. We seem incapable of imagining the deafening roar that shattered the cosmos as the titanic ocean which spread across creation was wildly torn asunder - a single body rent in two - by the violent entry of the firmament.
We like to think of the dry land appearing out of the waters accompanied by the sound of little birdies twittering in the trees; except that there were no trees or birds at that point. Instead, on day three it was the thunder of earthquakes and volcanoes amidst the tumult of tidal waves rushing away from mountains which exploded from the earth.
The remainder of the third day would have seen trees and plants - millions of them - bursting forth from the ground amidst the pandemonium of stems and branches and leaves rustling and creaking toward heaven in praise of the Creator.
On day four the conterminous sheet of light was pulled apart and congealed into flaming guardians of time which were flung into deepest space.
On day five the discordant calls and melodious songs of birds heralded the arrival of the monsters of the deep - God's own special creatures untamed by any but the Creator Himself.
Then on day six the world was filled with bellowing, screeching and howling animals as the fertile soil of mother earth was plowed and broken to produce land creatures.
Finally, on the sixth day God scraped together the dust of the earth and formed man. The wind of the Spirit rushed into his lungs and he was given the breath of life. Later, God tore away a part of man's side5 while he slept and fashioned a woman; a single body rent in two that they might be one again.
God's point in going about the work of creation in this way was to show us how we are to subdue creation and to rule it. And have no doubt, the creation week was filled with violence and noise. One needs only to look at how the Bible describes the invasion of God into the created realm to understand this. It most always is accompanied by noise and violence.
Indeed all dominion activity begins with destruction (or deconstruction). Mankind naturally works this way without understanding why. Unregenerate man hates anything that reminds him of his Creator, so he tries to hide the nature of his activity. Sometimes the attempt is overt like when the Sierra Club or some other green organization attempts to block logging operations in a roadless area. Sometimes it is not so obvious. Most men mute the violent side of their work and instead focus on the politically correct benefits of their activities. Meanwhile, the pattern of dominion is so common that we rarely recognize it for what it is anymore.
Consider a school teacher; he apprehends (takes hold of), creation when he gathers information. He does violence to creation when he thinks through the raw data reorganizing and rearranging it. He improves upon creation when he distributes the systematized information to his students and they benefit.
Or consider a lumber operation. The company owner or manager begins to apprehend creation when he formulates a plan for harvesting a certain area. He further takes hold of creation through his sawyers and other workmen and does violence to it when the trees are harvested, loaded on trucks and shipped to the mill. At the mill, the process is continued as the trees are milled into usable lumber and creation is further improved upon when a builder uses the lumber to construct a house.
The pattern may be seen in every stage of the work process. The workers at the lumber mill apprehend creation (the logs in the log yard), and violently rearrange it in order to improve upon it and produce usable lumber. The contractor also takes hold of creation (the milled lumber), violently rearranges it and improves upon it by producing a house or other building. I've worked in lumber mills and in construction and I can attest to the violent nature of these jobs. They are filled with noise, with rending, dividing and breaking. This isn't stewardship. It is subjugation and dominion. A steward would never cut down the trees in the first place. His job would be to make sure that nothing happens to forest. That's what green organizations are all about. That's not what Christians are supposed to be about.
Now, this doesn't mean that the Christian world view calls for the exploitation of the natural realm. God certainly did not exploit creation. In His creation week example He always left things better than how he found them. We are to do the same.
Because man is created in the image of God, man - especially the male of the species - has an innate desire to do violence as well. In our sin-tainted world this desire frequently finds its outlet in ungodly behavior. All too often the Church doesn't offer a solution. Instead the Church wants to make men act like women rather than teach them how to properly imitate God.
Most everything God does has an element of violence and destruction in it. For instance, He redeemed His people through the violence of the cross. In the story of redemption, God's apprehension of the material of redemption is eternal. Then in the fullness of time He began to do violence to creation through the birth of Jesus Christ. Certainly the process of birth is violence moving toward improvement, but I'm thinking of the violence brought by Jesus to the status quo. The violence continued and culminated in the breaking of Jesus' body, the spilling of His blood and His burial. Then, the astonishing improvement; God left the world better than He had found it when Jesus rose from the dead and a new age was inaugurated in His life.
The Christian life follows this pattern as well. Paul says that we must be crucified with Christ. Jesus said that the entrance into the kingdom of God requires violence and that violent men enter it by force. In other words, we must deal violently with those things in our lives that keep us from submitting to Jesus and only those who are willing to do so will live a life of submission and fellowship with the Lord. This doesn't involve physical violence, but a violence of the mind. Accordingly the Apostle Paul restates Christ's words when he directs us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Literally he demands that we no longer be conformed to this age but to undergo metamorphoses of the mind.
We shy away from violence because the world tells us that it is contrary to the example of Christ. We don't want to be religiously grouped with the Mohammedans or environmentally lumped together with the Rednecks, so we fail to develop a theology of violence. The problem is we have allowed the world to define the parameters for holy violence.6
Nonetheless, dominion requires the subjugation of nature and that requires doing violence to the created realm. Therefore the Church needs to start from scratch and develop a biblical theology of dominion. We need to consider what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in the subjugation of the cosmos.
Thus, we must carefully think through our approach to the subjugation and rule of creation. God didn't just willy-nilly start doing something one day without a plan in mind. The idea of creation had been with Him from time eternal. Likewise, we are not called to go out and start a bunch of open pit coal mines with no thought for the future just so we can say that we've done violence to nature in the name of the Lord. The goal is not merely to profit from the creation, but to make it better. And in order to do that we need to carefully consider our actions; the godly pattern begins with the apprehension of creation intellectually and moves to the physical. Really this is where the most important aspect of dominion takes place. Here is where the image of God should shine forth as we think through creative and innovative ways to physically apprehend creation, rend it and come up with something better. These days it seems that people are satisfied with simply doing what has already been done. Nonetheless, the Christian should labor long and hard in thought; bending all his energy and God given ability to the task of improving upon creation.7
I am neither a scientist nor other expert able to pontificate concerning the potential that lies within creation. I can't really give you examples of what might be possible if Christians begin to take the dominion mandate seriously. I imagine that we have only begun to scratch the surface of what is feasible. I do believe that if we pursue dominion as we should we will see human innovation and creativity blossom in a way we've ever seen before. There ought to be millions of Christian, engineers, inventors, software designers, chemists, architects, composers and so on, each taking hold of creation, violently rearranging it and producing something better to the benefit of mankind and the glory of God. Stewards don't do that. Dominionists do.