The Meaning of Dominion by Virginia Bell

In the summer edition of The Ark, CCA Chief Executive Chris Fegan invited readers to join the discussion on the meaning of “Dominion”. CCA interprets “dominion” to mean “stewardship” which is the concept that we are responsible for and have a duty of care towards all of God’s creation. This includes a duty of care for the non-human creation, including the animal kingdom. Here CCA member, Virginia Bell presents her interpretation of the meaning of Dominion.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we are told that God created mankind in his own image to rule over the earth. The words chosen by the writers of Genesis reflect their attitude and their experience. They could plainly see that mankind was the dominant species and they made that plain in God’s words to Adam and Eve – “Subdue” the earth, “Rule over …every living creature”. Such terms reflect the times in which they were written. Would anyone accept at face value the instructions in the New Testament, similarly concerned with ruling, to slaves that they should obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5/ Colossians 3:22/ 1 Timothy 6:1/ Titus 2:9 )?

I don’t believe that our role was ever meant to be rulers. But assume that it was our role to be stewards of creation, and that our stewardship was part of our contract with God. That contract was broken by mankind at the Fall when, as the writers put it, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. After the Fall, everything changed. The world was no longer a pleasant place, and Adam and Eve’s fallen nature meant that they were no longer working in unison with God as his stewards.

Indeed, mankind is the most cruel, wasteful and destructive of all creatures. Certainly not fit to rule the earth. It is the subduing, ruling and dominating of the earth by mankind which is destroying the planet. If we lived simply, as other creatures do, gathering our food, the earth would not be in the bad state that it is in now. Even if agriculture were not as destructive, polluting and wasteful as modern agriculture is, it means taking large parts of the earth for our own use and excluding other creatures from that land. That is tyranny. The world should be shared by all creatures, as it is home to all creatures.

As Christians, we should see ourselves as servants of the earth, not as rulers. That is the message of Jesus. We should be serving the earth, not dominating it. We should be concerned for the health and well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants.

Of course, it is impossible for mankind to properly look after the planet. Before the Fall it was possible, but after the Fall everything is messed up, and even with the best will in the world we can’t help causing suffering. The best we can do is to reduce our damaging impact and to treat all creatures as our neighbour.

We have been redeemed by Jesus, but we are still living in a broken world, waiting for the fruits of the redemption. In this broken world, we have a duty to help spread the Kingdom of God. We do this by obeying God’s laws (10 Commandments), informing others about the Gospel, and living simply. Living simply means we cause as little harm as possible to the environment, to our fellow creatures and to our neighbours near and far.

I repeat, I don’t believe that we were meant to be stewards – with its implication of exploitation – and rulers of creation, even though such a rule would have been a benign one had we continued in our close relationship with God. I believe we were meant to be stewards who serve creation. I think all creatures with memory, will and personality are reflections of God, and made in the image of God. And all creatures are I believe loved by God despite the Fall. Even the worst of humans are loved by God.

It could be that the words chosen by the writers were deliberate, because ‘dominion’ in Hebrew meant taking responsibility for. And the Hebrew word for ’till’ implies service, and the Hebrew word for ‘keep’ means to preserve. To till and keep – to serve and preserve. That sounds right. That I can accept.

Even if we accept that humankind is the rightful ruler of the world, we need to realise that a ruler can be good or bad. A good ruler looks after and protects those they rule over. A good ruler does not harm and kill those they rule over.

The earth belongs to all creatures, not just the dominant species. We cannot use the environment to suit ourselves. We can’t use other creatures to suit ourselves. I think our place on the planet was to live simply according to our needs, along with all God’s creatures, sharing the planet and its resources with all who call it home. Perhaps then we might have found a fulfilment and happiness that seems impossible to us now.

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