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 respect.
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