The word that jumped out to me the most in the Genesis passage was “dominion.” Not sure what this says about my personality, but when I think of the word “dominion” I think of the movie Jurassic World: Dominion. In this movie, after dinosaur cloning has gotten out of control, dinosaurs now freely roam cities and neighborhoods. The result is that humans are no longer the dominant species. The plot involves figuring out how humans are to exist in a world where humanity is no longer the “top predator.” After a lot of exciting dinosaur chases and (spoiler alert) all of the bad people getting eaten, they eventually figure it out.
This movie is an example of how we understand the word “dominion.” The word dominion brings to mind dominance. The most powerful. Those on top. The one who has dominion calls all the shots and everything and everyone within their “domain” has to adhere to their rule.
While it says in Genesis 1:28 that humans are to have “dominion” over creation, it does not mean we have a divine permission slip to do whatever we want with creation. It is true that humans were created in the image of God and that sets us apart from the rest of creation. Our entire being: the physical, mental, and spiritual are a reflection of who God is. How we have “dominion” over creation should also reflect the character of God.
While we are who is most important to God this does not mean that God does not care for the rest of creation.
In our passage from Genesis this morning, before God creates anything there was only chaos and darkness, and after God creates every living entity and creature God calls it “good.” Other translations say God was “pleased” with all that God created. It was pleasing and good in God’s eyes that each and every living thing God created brought order and life to the chaos and darkness, which were all that existed before creation.
Nature is evidence of God’s goodness and creativity. God could’ve made this world bland and boring, but instead, God, as the greatest artist of all made this world full of color and diverse creatures. Based on what God created and what God says about creation in Genesis chapter one we see that all of creation is important to God.
We don’t have to look very far in Scripture to see more evidence of this. Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” Or Matthew 6:28-29: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.” In this passage, Jesus is talking about why we should not worry and points out that if God cares so well for the rest of creation how much more so will God care for us? We, however, tend to read this passage like the first chapter of Genesis: Because we are what is most important to God the rest of nature is at our disposal. That’s not what Jesus meant. While we are God’s most important creation, Jesus points out that the rest of creation is still important to God and that God still actively cares for the rest of nature.
In Colossians, Paul writes “19 For in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” Paul affirms the supremacy of Jesus in that the fullness of God is found in Jesus and in no other person or created thing and it is through Jesus that all things will be reconciled or brought back into a relationship with God. Notice it doesn’t say that just humans will be reconciled to God, but all things. Since it’s clear in other parts of scripture that God values and cares for everything else God created – all of creation, not just us humans, will be redeemed. All things mean just that: All of humanity and all of creation will be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
Since God values and actively cares for all living creatures and things, we too, must value and actively care for creation. We can’t define our “dominion” over creation with our modern understanding of what that word means. Our model for what it means to exercise dominion is Jesus Christ. As John describes in John chapter one, Jesus is “the true light who enlightens everyone.” Notice it’s a similar pattern to the creation account in Genesis 1. Jesus was with God (because he is God) when all of creation came into being. All things were created in him, through him, and for him. Before Jesus, there was just darkness just as it states in Genesis one. In Jesus, all things, including creation, are held together.
So how does Jesus exercise his authority and dominion over the world?
With radical humility, mercy, and grace. In Philippians chapter 2:6-8, Paul writes this about Jesus “Though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” Jesus exercised dominion by becoming a servant. He led by serving. He showed “dominance” by washing the disciple’s feet, building relationships with lepers and the poor and in the most humble act of all: death on the cross. It was a sacrificial way of living.
Jesus as our model for “dominion” means we must humbly care for all that God has entrusted us with. The lives of our family, our children, our own selves, and our friends, and this also includes creation.
We are to care for creation, which means we can’t look at the rest of creation as a means to our end. We can’t look at creation as a commodity to serve our wants and needs. Some Christians think that we shouldn’t care for the earth because Jesus is coming back anyway so why bother? We “bother” to be good stewards of creation because this is what God asks of us and it’s clear in scripture that God cares deeply for the rest of creation.
To care for creation, or anything really, is to make sure all of nature is healthy and thriving. It’s clear that there is a give and take. We can’t survive without the rest of creation. We need to drink water, we need to eat our vegetables and fruits, all of which come from the land. This isn’t a call to veganism or vegetarianism, but rather a biblical and theological way we are to view our role of caring for creation. To have a biblical understanding of what it means to have “dominion” over all living things.
If we are created in God’s image, then all we do must reflect who God is. We need to care for creation in the same way God cares for creation. In addition, when we care for creation we are caring for one another.
In Kyle Meyaard-Schaap’s book “Following Jesus in a Warming World,” he recounts his experience in leading a group of college students from Grand Rapids to Kayford, a coal mining town in West Virginia, in order to better understand the tension in that community. Whereas miners would go into the mountain, the coal mining industry found that simply leveling the mountain was much more efficient in extracting the coal. This resulted, however, in hundreds of miners losing their jobs, pollution in the streams and in toxic dust in the air making hundreds sick.
They meet Larry, an eccentric guy with overalls and a strawbrimmed hat who is the last holdout in his neighborhood who didn’t sell his home to a mining company despite an intimidation campaign that drove out his neighbors, so that the remainder of Kayford Mountain could be demolished.
They met husbands with inoperable tumors, mothers and daughters as young as 11-years-old with ovarian cancer, a result of how the pollution of the mining affected their community and communities down stream.
They also met young school children who were excited to grow up and be the next generation of coal miners. They visited a church who, while sympathetic to those struggling with the effects of coal mining, viewed coal as a “blessing from God” and were proud of their community’s role in powering the rest of the country. Meyaard-Schaap was not prepared for such pride that was so deeply rooted in this small mining community. It was more complicated than he anticipated.
Meyaard-Schaap points out that this community can simultaneously be proud of how they were a part of the coal industry that brought millions of people out of poverty in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and address those struggling with illness and poverty in their community. He writes: “We can recognize that coal has put food on the table for millions of Americans and poisoned the drinking water. Both can be true at the same time.”
He then goes on to say: “What if Christians across the US were increasingly formed, week after week into people who saw the created world not as inert raw material meant for nothing more than powering our industrial machines but as the Creator’s masterpiece…what if US Christians were formed to love God’s world and to love the people who depend on it for survival?”
In caring for creation we are caring for one another. Creation was meant for us to enjoy, but we’re also dependent upon creation. None of us can survive without it. In caring for our planet we are ensuring that our neighbors near and far, whether here in Ottawa County or in Kayford, WV, are also taken care of.
We can’t solve the problem of climate change by ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything. What changes in our own daily lives can help the rest of creation? What changes can help our neighbors? The Earth Care Committee has a table in the Gathering area to give us some ideas of how to do just that. There will be a movie shown later this afternoon about how a group of 5th graders in NYC wanted to address the problem of plastic polluting their city and our world.
My hope is that we have a different view of God’s creation. In taking care of creation we are responding to Christ’s love for all of humanity and all of creation.