Being Good Stewards


"God told us in Genesis to "fill the earth and subdue it; and have
dominion" over the earth.  Does this mean to use the earth without
regard to the long term effects or is this a Biblical command to be a
good steward of the earth?"
  A.K., Chicago 



"God told us in Genesis to "fill the earth and subdue it; and have
dominion" over the earth.  Does this mean to use the earth without
regard to the long term effects or is this a Biblical command to be a
good steward of the earth?"
  A.K., Chicago 

 

 

Humanity
has a unique role in God's creation. Other species exploit their
environment to survive and thrive. Some even use simple tools. Humans
alone use technology to bend change the face of nature for their own
purposes. From simple stone age tools to primitive farming implements
to microprocessors, human inventions have allowed us to spread across
the planet by taking control of nature. Genesis confirms that this use
of human creativity is itself part of God's good creation.

 

But
is the "dominion" granted in Genesis 1:28 unconditional and unlimited?
It seems instead that everything is created with its own place and
limits. The heavens are separated from the earth and the sea is set
apart from dry land to make spaces for the order God intends. Confusing
creation with the Creator by giving nature infinite capacity to satisfy
our desires is idolatry, and the Hebrew prophets warn that idolatry is
most tempting when we use those false gods to expand our own sense of
power and security.

 

When
the Bible says to fill the earth and subdue it, it tells us to take
control of the effects of natural forces by knowledge, skill, and hard
work, and to pass on what we have done to future generations, who will
flourish because we have cared for the world God made. The people who
first repeated the story of creation in Genesis lived mostly by
subsistence agriculture. They knew that "subduing the earth" was hard
work, and they had few illusions about their power to defy the limits
of nature. A more recent "dominion theology" insists that we can do
with the world whatever we wish. But like all idolatries, this one uses
the god it has made for itself to deny what we know about God from
scripture and from creation. We know now that the ecology on which all
life depends can be changed by human hands in ways that do not allow us
to be fruitful and multiply. Those changes do not "subdue" the earth.
They subvert its place and ours in God's creation. Genuine dominion
would involve the use of political power as well as technical skill to
make sure that the world in which we can be fruitful and multiply
survives.


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