One of the earliest tasks of human beings given in the Bible is called the dominion mandate, and it is given for the first time in Genesis 1:26-28: “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This particular mandate, the first command of God to mankind, has a lot of relevance and implications to the political nature of environmentalism as it relates to the Bible.
In our world, environmentalism is related to a lot of heathen religion. For one, there is the connection one sees between the shamanism and paganism of more primitive tribes (see, for example, Disney’s “Pocahontas”) and much of the religious motivation of the modern environmentalist movement with its belief in mother earth and a type of pantheism that views all lives as being of equal worth. From this passage, we see clearly that mankind is created in the image of God, (specifically of both the One who became Jesus Christ and God the Father) as his viceroys over the earth to rule it and to be held accountable for that rule. For one, that means that “specisism” as it relates to mankind is part of the divine mandate of authority, but it also means that mankind is held accountable for how we rule over the earth and the creatures on it. Our authority is delegated authority, subject to the moral and legal restrictions that are present in scripture, which regulates the legitimate use of the earth.
In reflecting on the creation that God has made, one can witness clearly that God has a great love of curious and eccentric organisms. There is a great deal of ornamentation and humor and irony in creation, rather than a boring uniformity that is often associated with God’s ways by those who speak in ignorance and misguided hostility. Likewise, this diversity and complexity is what we see within human beings as well, a diversity that reflects God’s preference for variety. We would therefore see that God’s intent for mankind is to rule over creation in such a way that preserves diversity and that also provides rest for the land and the people who work it, being hostile to the centralization of wealth within the hands of selfish elites as well as the development of plantation slavery and export driven crop monoculture based on the exploitation of land and people, while also being hostile to a reverence of nature that crosses from proper respect and godly stewardship to worship.
And, since today is Earth Day, it is fitting to comment on the way in which our political worldview as a society shows a great deal of paganism in its practice, in giving more government honor to the earth than to the Creator of it. That said, the two sides of the dominion mandate themselves invite the judgment of God on a wayward and rebellious humanity. For one, the poor stewardship of the earth tends to lead to a great deal of misery and suffering, which invites God’s action to judge those who destroy the earth and who oppress the people on it. God’s granting of dominion to humanity is not a freedom to exploit it, but rather it is a granting of the earth as a place for mankind to learn responsibility and to handle power and deal with logistical realities as a way of improving our moral sense as well as the existence of ourselves and others. Likewise, the command to be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth would lead to God’s judgment because it implies that mankind will eventually run against limits; thus to seek to hold population steady or decrease it would tend to seek to deny the requirement of God’s justice and the time limit of mankind to rule over the earth before that judgment comes.
In looking at how God has given the earth over to the dominion of mankind, we see, as is common in scripture, a balancing tension between two extremes. On the one hand, we are not to abdicate our responsibility over nature by failing to subdue it and rule it according to God’s ways, but neither are we to think ourselves the owners and ultimate authorities over earth and the people on it either, but we are to recognize that we are subordinates to God, delegated authority by Him in order to improve our own capabilities as a result of skillful management of those parts of earth that are under our jurisdiction. Let us therefore rule wisely, neither being tyrants over the earth nor worshipers of the creation rather than the Creator. Let us develop our capacity to rule wisely in whatever realms where we have some nature of responsibility, while also learning from the restraints that are placed by God’s regulations about how we are to treat mankind and the creatures and human beings that are on it. Let our behavior on earth serve to the glory of God, rather than to our shame.