Genesis 1:28 tells us: "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.'"
Some words just do not sound nice. To me the words ‘dominion’ and 'subdue’ are such words. When I hear how God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, I feel no negative
reverberations. But the command to ‘subdue’ the earth sounds rather harsh. Why
did God not speak about ‘cultivating’ the earth? And why is the first couple
told to have ‘dominion’ over all the other creatures? ‘Exercising care’ would
have sounded so much friendlier to me.
There is a reason
why words today no longer mean what they once meant. When this earth was
perfect, words like ‘dominion’ and ‘subdue’ had no negative connotation. There
was not the slightest hint of power or force. But once sin entered this world,
everything changed. Even the perfect intimacy between the first man and the
first woman was affected, and their innocent nakedness turned into total
embarrassment. From now onwards,
subduing and exercising dominion no longer describe a loving and caring
disposition, but they create a mental picture of hatred and hostility.
Significantly, the Hebrew word that is translated as ‘subdue’, may also mean
‘to enslave’, and in some instances even ‘to molest’ and ‘to rape’. And the
word that is translated as ‘dominion’ often refers to the kind of rule that is
severe rather than benevolent, oppressive rather than supportive.
We never needed close connection with God more than we need it today"
From bad to worse
The first human
beings were appointed as stewards of God’s creation. One of their first jobs
was to give names to all God’s creatures. I do not know how I must interpret
this. Did these names come to their minds through divine flashes of
inspiration? Did they use some kind of early Hebrew? It does not seem that the
information about the naming of the creatures around them is intended to fully
satisfy our curiosity on such points. For the Bible writers ‘names’ were more
than useful labels to keep things, animals and people apart. In fact, God
himself had a peculiar way of dealing with names. Names have to do with the
essence of the things or beings they refer to. Names presuppose relationships.
That is why names may change when the nature of a relationship alters (you
remember how Jacob became Israel?). Adam and Eve’s job of ‘naming’ the animals
suggest that their ‘dominion’ was to be built on a relationship with their environment.
Sin did away with
this positive relationship with nature. Adam and Eve had ‘named’ everything
around them, but now they were no longer ‘on speaking terms’ with the natural
world. Genesis 3 tells us of the radical change. From now onwards the ‘multiplying’
would be a painful business. The joyful equality between male and female would
now be marred by inequality and subordination. The beautiful produce of the
earth would grow among thorns and thistles, and tilling the soil would now
require hard and exhausting labor.
As man was
estranged from his original calling of perfect stewardship, the ‘dominion’ of
the earth became a ruthless exploitation and ‘subduing’ came to be increasingly
characterized by brute force and relentless egoism. The grateful, responsible
use of the resources of this globe deteriorated into a rape of the earth’s
natural resources, a destruction of much of its natural habitat and even a
dramatic change in the world’s climate.
Must we just accept
the status quo?
What are we to do as
Christians who live in 2013? Should we simply accept that sin is an awful
reality? Why should we try to change things, knowing that we live at the end of
time and things must get worse before they can get better—when Christ comes to
make all things new? Or do we
still have a holy calling to be stewards? Do we believe that Christ’s kingdom
can already be realized among us, albeit in a very limited and preliminary
manner? Might Christ’s command that we become the salt of the earth (Matthew
5:13), and that we do all we can to give a better taste to our society, also
mean that we must give optimal care to our physical world? Does not the New Testament suggest that
followers of Christ are to be stewards who operate on the basis of kingdom
values and try to push back the virus of sin where we can?
What has happened to the Christian steward? Is Patrick McLaughlin, an Anglican priest and Christian thinker, right when he states that our churches are filled with ‘owners’ rather than stewards?"
What has happened
to the Christian steward? Is Patrick McLaughlin, an Anglican priest and
Christian thinker, right when he states that our churches are filled with
‘owners’ rather than stewards? To be a steward is to have a lord. A Christian steward is someone who
recognizes the lordship of Jesus Christ over every domain of his life.
Traditionally, Seventh-day Adventists have emphasized two areas of life in
which they wanted to clearly uphold the lordship of Christ. Adventist
Christians know that God is the owner of all material wealth. He owns ‘the
cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalm 50:10). They maintain that God allows them
to use ninety percent of those material resources that are entrusted to them
and claims just ten percent thereof as His. The principle of ‘tithing’ stands
as tall as ever before. Unfortunately, a sizable percentage of Adventists seem
to have forgotten this. Billy Graham’s words are worth quoting: “Your checkbook
is a theological document. It tells you whom and what you worship!”
A second domain of
stewardship on which Adventists have traditionally insisted is care for the
body, which they have regarded as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Being God’s temple, the body
must not be defiled by bad food and harmful substances.
Reclaiming our original mandate
But stewardship has
a much wider application than money and meat. It is about reclaiming the
original meaning and exercise of ‘dominion; that dates from before the entrance
of sin. When man was created in the image of God, the way in which he exercised
dominion over his environment reflected God’s rule of love. God’s ‘dominion’
over his creation continued to be one of loving care, while man’s dominion over
what God had entrusted to him became marred by self-love, cruelty and exploitation.
Christians are called upon to return to what God originally intended. It is as Dr. R.C. Sproul, a popular
American Christian author, wrote in his book Essential
Truths of the Christian Faith: “We are called to
reflect the character of God’s righteous rule over the universe. He never
ravages or exploits what He rules, but rather reigns in justice and
kindness” (p. 132). Christian stewardship today demands a new
understanding of man’s original mandate. When we recognize Christ’s Lordship
over everything, we will understand that we must be utterly serious about
restoring his kingdom values, even in the midst of the ravages of sin. It means
that we will be totally committed to restoring relationships of full equality
and mutual support between the genders. It means that it becomes part of the
mission of the Christian church to work for justice, for the protection of our
environment and the safeguarding of our climate. It implies that we no longer abuse
the natural resources that God has given us but show responsibility and
Representing the King
The term ‘steward’
has ancient roots. Its use in English is already attested as early as the
thirteenth century. It has royal connotations, as is reflected in the name of
the English royal house of the Stewards (with “Stuart” as the French
spelling). When we use the word
today its royal connections are as strong as ever. Christian stewards are
representatives of the King of the universe and they exercise ‘dominion’ over
the world on His behalf!
Average life span in
the wild: 10 to 12 years
Size: 3.5 to 4.5 ft
(1.1 to 1.4 m); Tail, 25.5 to 31.5 in (65 to 80 cm); Weight: 77 to 143 lbs (35
to 65 kg)
Protection status: Vulnerable