God made humans in his image and entrusted them with sovereignty over the rest of creation, according to Genesis 1.
This sovereignty over creation isn’t a despotic rule to do whatever we want with and to the earth, imposing our will on it.
Have you ever tried to do that to a garden, forcing the soil to bend to your will? It doesn’t work well.
For example, I like fresh corn, but planting corn in December doesn’t work. The seed will rot in the ground before it has a chance to take root.
Planting in September doesn’t work either; the stalk will freeze and die before it has a chance to mature.
Seeds must be planted at the proper time to produce quality crops. Similarly, to rule over creation is to do what God does in Genesis 1, which is bringing order to the garden to enable it to flourish.
Genesis 3 describes humans moving away from this plan, seeking to use creation for their own purposes and desires, but that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned his plan for creation or for its sovereign caretakers.
Repeatedly, Scripture refers to humans ruling with God despite our disobedience (see Psalm 8:1-9; Daniel 7; Revelation 3:21 and 22:3-5; Romans 5:17; and 1 Timothy 2:8-13).
1 Peter 2:9, echoing Exodus 19:4, calls us a royal priesthood – king and priests mediating God’s kindly sovereignty over his world.
As with God granting humans dominion over creation in Genesis, this isn’t as much ruling over the world as it is ruling on behalf of the world, serving by keeping peaceful order so that the world may flourish.
Though not many of us have experienced being a king, far too many of us have suffered under human kings, and we don’t want any part of that tyranny. The U.S. threw off the yoke of kingly tyranny, and we don’t trust anyone getting close to it.
We don’t like or trust all-powerful rulers, and we push back against anyone with pretensions of being a ruler. We’re uncomfortable with any vision that includes anyone but God as our ruler.
Some Christians don’t have any kind of vision of an earthly future. Many have a heavenly vision of the future, but in that vision the earth is destroyed, gone forever, and all that’s left are heaven and hell.
Within this vision, humans endeavor to make sure we go to heaven and then, if it’s convenient, we try to get as many others to heaven as possible so that the only ones who are in hell are really bad people, like Hitler and the terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on 9/11.
But this vision doesn’t include the earth, in spite of the many passages of Scripture that speak of the future of the earth.
The fact is this: Jesus rarely spoke about the afterlife of heaven, but he repeatedly talked about the future life on the earth.
He called it the Kingdom of God, and though people often think he was talking about the place “saved” people go when they die, he wasn’t. Or, more precisely, he was talking about so much more than that.
He taught us to pray that God’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (see Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). He spoke often of the coming age, which was an earthly age when God’s sovereignty over the earth would be recognized and enjoyed by all.
Jesus’ birth was announced with promises of “peace on earth, and good will toward humans” (Luke 2).
The book of Revelation ends with a vision of a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to earth. The streets of gold described there are not descriptions of heaven but of this new Jerusalem on earth (see Revelation 21).
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God had a vision for the earth and for our place in it; he has never abandoned that vision. We shouldn’t either.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.
Pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland.