In Genesis, there are two poetic creation accounts (Genesis 1:1-2:3 and Genesis 2:4-25), both of which assert that humanity was formed in the image of God and given responsibility for creation.
Humanity enjoyed unhindered fellowship with God and lived in harmony with the natural world. This is a picture of the divine ecology.
Humanity ultimately rejected (and continues to reject) this mutually beneficent synergy, adopting (and continuing to adopt) the mistaken belief that we can act however we choose in relation to the world.
Interpreting dominion as domination, exploitation and unrestrained use, humanity has chosen to use the world’s nonrenewable natural resources in a profligate manner.
For example, certain production methods result not only in byproducts that harm the environment, but also in products used one time and then thrown away.
This is a waste of resources and land because one-and-done products are buried in landfills that entomb trash forever.
Mountains of trash are being built across our nation as a result of our lifestyles, which is a damning legacy to leave behind.
I believe our behavioral trends reveal that we do not see our relationship with creation as give and take, but as take and take some more. We may not consciously construct our lives on this belief, but our actions are often that of exploitation rather than nurture.
Dominion or rule by the images of God, which is all humanity, means that we are God’s representatives on earth. Therefore, our treatment of the world must reflect how God would treat the world.
In the second creation account, the word often translated “till” implies service, emphasizing that our role vis-Ã -vis the natural world is that of servant not exploiter. While we must use the earth’s resources, we must do so as servants.
In addition to misunderstanding dominion as domination, I believe another contributing factor to Christians’ exploitative use of the earth derives from a perspective popularized in the 20th century.
This view suggests that at the end of all things the “elect” will be taken up (raptured) to heaven, the earth will be destroyed and, in certain variations of this view, replaced.
If this world ultimately will be burned up and destroyed, the logic goes, who cares what happens to it?
Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minn., once addressed the consequences of this view by asking, “who is more likely to take care of a piece of property: a renter or an owner?”
An owner has a more vested interest in maintaining and caring for property than a renter, Boyd contends.
Therefore, a theological viewpoint suggesting that we are just passing through until we “fly away” in the “sweet by and by” fosters a renter’s mentality regarding creation.
Usability becomes more important than sustainability; immediate convenience becomes more important than long-term effects.
Contrasting an interpretation of dominion as domination and a “renter’s mentality” toward creation is the perspective that God is working toward a holistic redemption – a re-creation of all things. In this alternative vision, the earth is not destroyed and replaced; it is renewed and restored.
This is why in Matthew 6 Jesus calls his followers to pray for God’s kingdom – God’s ecology, you might say – to come upon earth.
This is why Romans 8 speaks of the earth straining forward as it looks, longingly, for redemption when all creation “will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-27).
This is why 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 speaks not of “rapture” in the sense of being taken out of this world before it is destroyed, but of humanity going out to meet Jesus and ushering him in with all due praise and adoration (as the citizens of a city did when a dignitary arrived for a visit).
And this is why Revelation 21-22 paints a picture of a renewed heaven and a renewed earth – a world where humanity relates to God, to creation and to one another harmoniously once again.
A world where the present life of hegemony, competition, chaos and power exerted over others is replaced by a life of mutuality, cooperation, harmony and service offered to others.
I believe we need a new vision and a renewed theology that inspires us to be vanguards of the renewed world, the healed ecology God is bringing, by being good stewards of creation through loving, serving and maintaining God’s good world.
Zach Dawes is the managing editor for EthicsDaily.com.