Last year, our dog, Sonny, was put down. It was not an easy choice to make. Ever since, my kids have been asking for a new pet. Some days they want a new dog, other days a cat. They’ve asked for pet birds, pet bunnies, even a pet turtle. I can understand that; when I was a kid, but older than my kids are now, I loved having pets, and had all kinds. But I keep telling my kids no for the same reason my dad told me no pets when I was their age: I don’t want another responsibility added to my life.
My girls say they’ll be responsible for the new pet. They will feed it and clean up after it, they will train it and play with it, they will make sure that I don’t have to be responsible for the new pet at all. I still refuse. Despite what they say, despite their current enthusiasm for pet ownership and their promises to be responsible, the duties will fall to me. They just can’t be trusted with that responsibility.
It’s astonishing that God trusts us more than I trust my kids.
One of the most amazing things about the creation narrative from Genesis 1 is found in verse 26, when God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (NRSV)
Here, God distinguishes humanity from every other created thing. Unlike the rest of creation, humanity is made to be like God, to share in God’s image and likeness, and to have dominion over the rest of Creation. God’s intention for us from that beginning is that we join God in the work that God was busy doing, that we take part in the missio Dei, the mission of the triune God that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all busy about. Having made that decision and created us for that purpose, God gives us dominion over the rest of creation.
Maybe that was a bad idea on God’s part.
Just like my kids are not responsible enough for pet ownership, we humans don’t seem responsible enough for dominion. We’ve been proving that for thousands of years.
We have a very wrong understanding of what dominion means. We hear God’s phrase, “have dominion,” and we wrongly think that means dominate. Our dominion reflects the concept that might makes right; we think that if we can do something, then we have the right to do something.
This mentality is deeply engrained in us. Just consider Cain and Abel; Cain dominated his brother through might, killing him when the opportunity arose. When called before God, Cain’s concern was not that he had done evil, but that he would encounter others who could kill him, and they would.
We humans do whatever we want to do, consequences be damned. If I can take your food to feed myself, I will. If I can take your land to make my home and raise my crops, I will. If I can force you to work for me, I will. If I can pass laws that will keep you where I want you to be, I will. If I can get away with hurting you to benefit myself, I will. The riots we have seen recently are the inevitable result of centuries of this kind of might-makes-right domination by one people group over others.
There have been lots of prayers for peace recently, by which we mean an end to the conflicts. I’m sure there have also been plenty of prayers for justice, by which we mean let evildoers and lawbreakers be punished. What we have not understood, or maybe chosen not to understand, is that peace will only come with real justice, which is not punishing wickedness but making all things right, restoring all relationships to rightness, correcting the damages done by our evil insistence on domination.
The damages are vast. We have enslaved people, we have committed genocides and atrocities, we have forced entire people groups to leave their homes and families and eke out a new living in inhumane places and conditions. We have gone to war with one another and created weapons capable of ending millions of lives with the push of a single button, and we have profited from the proliferation of these weapons. We have poisoned air and the water, making clean air and water the exclusive property of the rich and powerful, and ignored the cries of poisoned children. We have wiped out entire species of creatures for nothing more than sport and crafted foods that we hold in monopoly.
Sisters and brothers, our domination within and over creation is an affront to our Creator. We must begin the arduous, difficult and painful task of correcting our world, of making it to be like the world God intended it to be, bringing about peace and justice and making God’s will on earth done as it is in heaven. We need to better understand what it means to have dominion and what God expects from us. We need to look to Jesus as our example.
In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus explains to the disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
To be a Godly ruler, one must be a servant.
Dominion over creation does not mean that we can do as we wish to it and within it; rather, to have dominion over creation means we must serve our fellow creatures.
Folks, there’s a lot of work to be done, but let us not back down from this task because it is difficult, or because it is uncomfortable, or because it makes us feel guilty. Let us begin by acknowledging that our domination, our might-makes-right mentality, is insidious and far reaching, throughout our history and into the present day, and it often does not look like we think. To have any hope of there being peace with justice in our world, we need to lay down our own might and our own sense of rightness and listen to those who are crying out to be heard.
Let us choose to serve, to become less so that Christ can become more.