How Should We Exercise Dominion?

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This is a guest post by Aaron Armstrong (Dad, Blogger, and Author). To see the entire series click here.

People who know me (or at least follow me on Twitter), know I enjoy puttering around the kitchen. One of my favorite ways to unwind is to try out a new recipe—everything from stuffed French toast to braised rabbit—and see what the response is from my family. What’s funny is, for me, it’s not always what I wind up making that is the enjoyable part: it’s the feeling of power that comes from taking all these raw ingredients and making something really cool and almost always delicious.

Why do I have that feeling, aside from being easy to please? I think it’s, at least in part, because of how God has designed me—and humanity as a whole. You see, back at the beginning of creation, when God created the first man and woman, He declared He would make them in His image—“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness,” God said (Genesis 1:26).

This idea of being made in God’s image has been the subject of much discussion within the Christian community over the centuries. It carries with it an understanding of the dignity of humanity, of being designed to function within relationships, of being wired to worship and serve our Creator.

But it also carries with it a responsibility: to “rule” or “have dominion” over the earth (Genesis 1:28).

If there’s one command that’s caused people to get in a tizzy, it’s this one. What does it mean to have dominion? Are we still called to do this? And, especially given that we’re living in a fallen world, how do we exercise dominion in a way that honors God?

Understanding “dominion”

When we talk about dominion, it’s helpful to think of it this way: As God’s image bearers in creation, we were intended to act as His representatives. We were designed, in a very real way, to show the world what God is like. So when God gave us the command to rule over the earth, the expectation was to do so in a way that reflected His character.

Maybe an illustration would help: when I ask a babysitter to watch my kids, I don’t say, “go to town, run amok! Do whatever you want.” I expect the babysitter to maintain the rules our family has in place. She is to act as a representative (albeit in an extremely limited sense) of my wife and me.

Human dominion is a little like that, but on a much grander scale. When God placed the first man in the garden of Eden, it was to “work it and watch over it” (Genesis 2:15). Adam was commanded to take care of the earth, to fill and cultivate the rest of it following after the example God had given him in the garden.

This was the ideal—and yet, as we can see just looking out our windows, it’s clear we’re not living in a paradise. There are some wondrous things in our world, no question, but let’s be honest, it’s a mess. In the beginning, the ground yielded its fruit gladly to the man; work wasn’t toil. But when man sinned, God put him under a curse and everything, including the earth, was affected. So rather than yielding fruit easily, the earth rebelled against the man, giving him thorns and thistles instead of the fruit of his labors.

And somewhere along the way, we decided to put our proverbial foot down. Our water became polluted. The soil was leached of its valuable nutrients. Forests were cleared and farmland replaced with sprawling housing developments for dwindling populations to not live in. Numerous animal species are either threatened or on the verge of extinction… Are you getting the picture?

Rather than using our dominion to cultivate the earth, we’ve chosen to conquer it instead.

Redeeming dominion in a fallen world

Now, I’m not a rabid environmentalist, so don’t hear me saying “dominion is all about how we treat the environment.” It involves how we interact with the world around us, but it’s more than that. Dominion touches every part of our being. And despite our fallen state, God has not removed the charge to rule over the earth from humanity. Therefore, we must consider how to use the authority God has given us to bring Him glory. Here are three suggestions loosely based on Genesis 1:28:

1. Consume responsibly

I have a confession: I hate recycling. I live in a townhouse complex that’s out of the 1970s, one without a recycling program and it’s great! Honestly, it’s not so much recycling as the propaganda surrounding it. While I’m skeptical that a styrofoam cup in a landfill will still exist in 15,000 years, I’m all for being responsible as a consumer. Don’t buy more than you need. Buy things that last. Just because you can be conspicuous in your consumption doesn’t mean you should be.

2. Work with excellence

While few of us are in positions of great authority, we are all responsible for carrying out the work we’ve been given with excellence. Do your work well, respect your employers, remembering that “your are serving the Lord Jesus Christ,” not men (Colossians 3:24).

3. Multiply spiritually and biologically

Some of you might cringe reading that, but looking at the context of God’s command to have dominion over the earth, it’s connected to our multiplying and filling the earth. While having children isn’t necessarily a mandate in the same way it was for Adam and Eve, having children is a way in which we can exercise dominion over the earth. We are bringing new life into the world. That’s a big deal.

Likewise, perhaps even more importantly, we need to be focused on spiritual multiplication. While biological multiplication is common to all humanity, only Christians can multiply spiritually. We have been given the role as Ambassadors of Jesus Christ with the responsibility of sharing the news of Jesus’ sin-defeating death and resurrection with the world. We are to make disciples of all nations. This is the greatest way in which we can exercise dominion over the earth in that we’re using the authority given to us by Christ for the express purpose of seeing the lost become found.

Those are some of the ways in which we can and should continue to exercise dominion in the fallen world as redeemed people. God has not removed this responsibility from us, so let’s make use of every opportunity we have to give Him glory.

This blog series is based on the fall study of The Gospel Project for adults and students, focused on the doctrine of humanity, titled “Bearing God’s Image”.