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Dominion versus Stewardship

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”                                  Genesis 1:27-28

I, and many contemporary Christians have interpreted the ‘dominion passage’ as to basically refer to the idea of good stewardship, that the harsh ruling connotation of the words was just that, modern connotations of a more pastoral intention by God.

A Christian colleague of mine in the biological sciences has been studying the original Hebrew of Genesis, in preparation for a book he’s writing. He presented some of his thoughts to our faculty group recently. I learned from him that in fact, the original Hebrew is correctly translated, connotations and all.

According to him, the word for subdue is kabash. Yes, in the sense of putting the kabash on an idea. It does mean subdue as in putting down an enemy or a rebellion. This has an even more profound implication:  that Creation is harsh and an enemy in need of being subdued. But wait, it gets better—God declares that this harsh, untamed Creation is good, and that humanity’s charge to tame it is very good!

This awareness of the Hebrew has rocked my image of God. If you’ve read this blog for very long, I have often commented that our definitions of the words ‘goodness,’ ‘holiness,’ and ‘righteousness’ are far too tame. Yet here again is another indication that God is no mere benevolent grandfather in the sky, but something far wilder, far more…, well more, than we can possibly imagine. He is no urbane metrosexual, but a living Being of Power, who demands we conform to His image, refusing to conform to ours, even delighting in shattering our views of Him because they are too small.

Then the word for rule (‘rule over the fish in the sea…”) is radah. This means to rule as a king. It has a royal connotation to it. In order to interpret it properly, we need to look at what God demanded of kings. Look up all of Psalm 72 on your own (homework), but here are the first seven verses:

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
   the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
   your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
   the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
   and save the children of the needy;
   may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure as long as the sun,
   as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
   like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
   and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

If this is indeed the kind of behaviour God expects from a king, then radah in Genesis 1:28 does convey the idea of lifting up, taming for better use, almost in the sense of bringing out the perfect gem hidden in the rough stone. Therefore, taken together, God’s commands for us to kabash and radah the Creation form a vastly richer picture of what our work on Earth is meant to be. It is no mere idyllic scene, neither is it merely survival of the fittest, but a great work, with meaning, purpose and reward.

{For a more thorough article on the Hebrew words, read this.}

As Christians, we need to stop making apologies for God as if He’s some quirky or misunderstood uncle. We need to understand what He says about Himself and get to know Him, proclaiming rightly all of His character. He says that He will offend people, that they will stumble over Him, and consequently set themselves over against Him.

But how can we give them the opportunity to make that choice in an informed manner if we ourselves don’t know Him? He is not a tame God. He commanded us to tame nature, and that He would tame us. Yet, instead we often try to have nature tame us (i.e. radical environmentalism) and then we try to tame God. That is the heart of paganism.


1 comment:

  1. He is not a tame God.

    Reminds me of my favorite bit from the Narnia books:

    "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."

    "Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.

    "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."