Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
The story of the Bible is about God and God’s creation. It’s set here, in this world, in the world God created and loves. It’s a story of God’s kingdom rule coming on earth as it is in heaven.
And we see something of God’s kingdom rulership reflected on page 1 of our Bibles. Perhaps surprisingly, the first time we hear of kingly rulership in the Bible, it is God commissioning humanity, who have been made to reflect the likeness of God, to ‘rule’ in the world God has created.
Much could and should be said as we explore what it means to outwork our most basic human vocation to ‘rule’, but let’s consider here one aspect of this: what should this ‘rule’ look like in how we relate to wider creation?
Sadly, over the Church’s history, we have all too often used the above verses to support a theology of ‘dominion’. This is a hierarchical approach to the natural environment in which humans are seen as both separate to and above the rest of creation. This theology could be call ‘ego-centric’, and is reflected visually in this image*:
This theology, or variations of it, has directly and indirectly led to immeasurable exploitation, destruction and devastation of the wider creation. If we adopt this view, where humanity stands over the rest of creation in this way, then we are led to believe that we can use the wider world however we want for our own needs and wants. This is fundamentally an extractive relationship. Lynn White, a respected historian from the USA, has famously argued that Christianity and it’s ‘theology of dominion’ is the ‘root of our ecological crisis’.
The temptation can be that we allow the pendulum to swing all the way to another type of error, which we might call eco-centrism:
This view denies entirely any distinction between humans and the rest of creation. While very popular among some Christian environmentalists, this ‘ecocentrism’ doesn’t take seriously enough the verses above that show that humans are uniquely made in the image of God and, as such, have a distinct role to play within God’s kingdom coming on earth.
What is much more honouring to the biblical texts is a theo-centric model:
This approach centres God and God’s love for the whole of creation. This is represented through the heart shape. This way of understanding the world emphasises that our relationship with God needs to govern our care for the environment. In this image, humans are shown as equal to one another, and not more important than the rest of creation. Humanity is at the bottom of the heart, recognising the biblical call to lovingly serve, cultivate, tend to and care for wider creation in a way the reflects and mirrors God’s character and nature.
Questions for reflection:
Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…” What does it mean to you that you are invited to ‘rule’ on earth and that this ‘ruling’ is rooted in your creation in the image of God?
Reflect on the fact that you’re commissioned to ‘rule’ with and for God on earth. What does that mean for you? What could and should that look like for you?
Reflect on the ways in which you interact with God’s wider creation. Which of the above models is reflected in the way you relate to the wider world? Are you being invited to rethink anything? To act and relate differently in any way?
How might the Kingdom of God be expressed and manifested through the ways in which you care for, tend to and cultivate wider creation?
* Graphics are copyright of Arocha International www.arocha.org; https://blog.arocha.org/en/noah-beyond-the-blockbuster/