In Genesis 1:28, God gave Adam and Eve a command: "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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
The implication is clear. The Earth and all of creation have been given to the human race to “dominate”. The Earth is ours to develop, nurture, and cultivate. It is God’s gift to us.
The world outside the Church largely stands upon a foundation of atheistic belief, and from their point of view, it doesn’t make sense for humans to assert themselves over nature. On the other hand, Christians seem reluctant to engage the matter of the appropriate way to have dominion over the Earth. Instead, the conversation on the Christian side is geared more toward reacting against the atheistic view.
It’s time for Christians to view their relationship with the created order as God has revealed rather than as a reaction against what the rest of the world believes.
The “Dirty” Origin of Humanity
God has indeed placed humanity as the “dominators” and stewards of His creation. However, we must understand that we are still a part of creation.
In Genesis 2:7, it is recorded that "the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Humanity wasn’t created from some sort of ethereal, spiritual substance and injected into creation. Humanity was made out of the muddy, dirty, dusty earth.
Some might accept this relationship to dust and nature on the condition that it will be severed forever upon death. After all, the Christian is destined for heaven, a non-physical place, to live as a soul without a body for all eternity… right?
1 Corinthians 15:35-58 addresses this in detail, but here are a couple of highlights:
"Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever” (v. 42b).
"For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (v. 53).
Going back to the gospels, we see this glorified body when Jesus Christ reveals Himself to the disciples after His resurrection. It isn’t ghostly. It has substance. It is physical. In this body, Jesus consumed, digested, and metabolized food. Not only that, He still bore the scars of His crucifixion. So we can understand that this body was the same body birthed by Mary and nailed to the cross. It was changed from a temporal and “earthly” state into an eternal “spiritual” state. The mundane dust had become glorified dust.
Not only will Christians re-possess their dusty bodies after the resurrection of the dead, but they will also live on a new dusty planet Earth. Revelation 21:1 says, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” Again, in 2 Peter 3:13, "But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
This is our relationship to nature: not standing aloof from it, but being a part of it and glorifying God for our place in it.
The Nature Centric View
There is a wrong, unbiblical approach to the relationship between humans and nature, and that is the view that sets nature over humans in importance. This is the belief that most Christians react against, and rightfully so. The idea that nature is to be valued over human dignity goes directly against the design of God.
Some outside the Church hold the opinion that humanity is cancer and that the best thing would be for humanity to die out. This is an extreme position, but it isn’t as uncommon as we might think.
Milder opinions that err on the side of valuing nature over humanity are in favor of restricting human activity using legislation to the point that humans would not be free to have dominion over nature as God commanded. This is not a viable option for Christians. God gave a command, and we cannot disobey Him.
The Man Centric View
The one thing that the nature-centric view gets right is that, in general, humans tend to be destructive. The Bible teaches that sin taints all things about humanity, and it isn’t hard to see that the way humans have exercised their dominion is no exception. Sin’s version of dominion places man at the center.
Plastic in the ocean is a real issue and a result of a lack of responsibility on the part of humanity. Plastic is an amazing material. Humans can use it to create tools that enable them to exercise dominion over the Earth in a way that nurtures and cultivates to the glory of God. However, in past decades large quantities of plastic have wound up discarded into the oceans, poisoning the waters and disrupting the Divinely ordered balance of life.
God has given humankind permission to hunt and eat animals, as we see in Genesis 9:3. But humanity has routinely overstepped the boundaries and has recklessly hunted several species of animals nearly to extinction.
The disrespect to God’s creation does not end there. Individual misuse of personal property, wasteful living, localized pollution, and unnecessary destructive behavior are all marks of humanity’s sinfulness.
The God Centric View
We must place neither humanity nor nature at the center of importance. That place belongs to God alone. We have to observe the created order within the Bible, which God called “good”, and live accordingly as individuals and as a species.
Biblical dominion is marked by responsibility. God gave the command the have dominion over the Earth. It isn’t an option, and it would be disobedience to decline. The Earth was not meant to regress into chaos but instead be subdued by righteous, responsible men and women whose desire is to glorify God.
Our care for nature should be nurturing, beautifying, and constructive rather than destructive. It is to be done in conjunction with loving one’s neighbor, so we cannot live wasteful and selfish lives. It is to be practiced in humble respect for the God of Creation, so we cannot handle His craftsmanship carelessly or destructively.
We must take our role as stewards seriously and seek to obey and model our care for Earth after God. We should treasure this planet as a precious gift from God in the way we handle our property, by avoiding unnecessary harm, and by seeking to understand more about it through science. The heavens and the Earth all declare the glory of God, and we have the privilege of joining in.