It is, at least to me, moot whether the Scripture’s description of Creation is literal, or a metaphorical story to illustrate the process undertaken by God to form our universe and all in it. The argument of Creation vs. evolution has equally debatable value. The only more miraculous notion than God creating every thing that exists is the idea that God created every living thing with the built-in ability to adapt to its environment.
Science calls the universe random, but that requires the presence of no laws, parameters or order whatsoever. Random, which means unsystematic or haphazard, cannot exist in the presence of order or laws. Once it is determined that even one law or parameter is present, and science has declared a multitude, or one prediction can be made, the quality of ‘random’ cannot be applied.
The opposite, then, must be true. The universe is systematic, and therefore the product of design. Science simply tends, as it always has, to discount that which cannot be quantified or qualified, in this case the hand of God.
Whether you believe in Creation as a 6-day or an evolving process, we generally seem to have no doubt we, as humans, were the ultimate goal in God’s Creation. In either case we have assumed dominion over the earth, ruling over all its inhabitants and resources. Is this really what God had in mind? We obviously have no way of knowing absolutely, but we certainly can gain clues from Scripture. The point of this essay is not to determine the answer to those questions, but simply to offer other, possibly more controversial, views of God’s position.
Genesis 1:26 (NIV) says – Then God said, “Let us make [hu]man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” God clearly gave dominion of the Earth to humankind – so what happened?
Traditional theology states the following.
Because of the “fall” of Adam and Eve, we entered into a contest of authority over God’s creation with none other than Lucifer. In obeying Satan, humanity gave its God-given authority away. In his book I Give You Authority, Charles H. Kraft states “But Adam, as we all know too well, fell for Satan’s deceit. God’s enemy led Eve to doubt the truth of what God said by offering her the possibility of knowing as God knows (Genesis 3:4-5). Foolishly Eve [and Adam], agreed to doubt and then disobey God, and in the process became obedient to Satan. In obeying Lucifer, Adam [and Eve] gave away the authority God had given them over the creation.” Kraft further states, “Their disobedience brought a curse on God’s creation and gave Satan authority over all God had given Adam and Eve. Satan had a right, therefore, in his discussion with Jesus, to claim that all power and wealth of the world “has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose” (Luke 4:6).”
Now, whether you read this story as literal or figurative makes no real difference. The message of what is written is essentially the same.
Thankfully, with the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ came not only forgiveness and salvation, but also a triumph, of sorts, for humankind. Christ reclaimed his followers’ dominion of the Earth and re-elevated them above Lucifer. But now we are left with Christ’s followers having some kind of control, and the rest of the world believing they have it but objecting. There has been a battle for control ever since. And within this battle, it is hard to find anyone who is concerned for what we are fighting for – God’s creation.
What did God mean by ‘rule over”? Some infer stewardship, while others understand it to mean total dominion. To humankind the word rule has meant many different things, but oddly enough few rulers have ever exemplified many traits that have been beneficial to anyone but himself or herself.
If we regard this dominion as sovereignty we need to understand God’s perception of what that monarchy would look like. Scripture dedicates two books, 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, to the accounts of three kings, Saul, David and Absalom. These books, and the characters in them, can be confusing as to moral and message; however, an excellent analysis is provided in A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by Rev. Gene Edwards. While this book was written for the specific situation of a person in crisis with his/her church, the analysis transcends that instance and provides an insightful view of the qualities God might appreciate in a monarch.
In short, the books of Samuel deal with an aging King Saul, having been anointed by God and ruling well, becoming increasingly paranoid that his servant, David, is out to unseat him. Saul, described as becoming insane with his distrust, seeks to destroy David in order to remove this perceived competition. In the process he destroys himself, and puts David in the position to become the king, and also God’s anointed.
David’s role is that of a shepherd who tries to do God’s will, even though failing sometimes. During his persecution by Saul, David declines to take action to defend himself, and always treats his tormentor with the respect afforded one of God’s anointed. David, while making mistakes, tries to do as God would want and ruled long enough to appoint a successor, his son Solomon.
Between these accounts comes the story of the other king, Absalom – also one of David’s sons. He seeks to forcibly unseat King David, because he knows how to rule far better than the man God chose. In the end, Absalom destroys himself much like Saul.
These accounts, especially having such a prominent position in scripture, give insight to the characteristics of rulers appointed by God, and those that aren’t. All, of course, are human, broken and fallible. But the outstanding virtues of the real kings are the beneficial manner in which they perceive their subjects, and their Godly treatment of their enemies. David accomplishes this through trying to keep to God’s will. God’s will doesn’t appear to include the willful extermination of competitors; something even David tried and paid the price for.
If God’s intention were stewardship, like the role of David, our role wouldn’t be much different than that of a beneficial ruler. We would respect and care for our charges, and try to do God’s will in the effort.
This brings up the question of whether, as ‘rulers’ or ‘stewards’ of God’s creation, we have performed like King David, or more like King Saul or Absalom. Are we righteously trying to do God’s will and respect creation, or are we paranoid or megalomaniacs. If we look back over the history of humankind, can we see the point in time where it appears we lost our collective mind? I believe the change from ‘primitive’ to ‘cultured’ marked our decline into madness.
Genesis 2:10-14 gives clues to the location of Eden as follows: ”A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” That would place Eden roughly in the area of Mesopotamia, where incidentally the “dawn of civilization” has generally been thought to have occurred.
There is one primary characteristic that began in this area and has continued throughout the rest of recorded civilization – the move from hunting/gathering to cultivating. With this transformation came changes in conduct that have permeated ‘modern’ societies.
The difference between these cultures can still be seen today, but only in very few places. The hunter/gatherer societies, for instance certain Australian aborigine, New Guinea native and South American Indian tribes, still conduct life as they have for millennia. Only an average of three to four hours a day is spent collecting food, which happens to be the primary tangible good in these cultures. Housing is simple but adequate.
In contrast, the ‘first world’ now spends more time, on average, providing for its ‘needs’ than ever before. These needs include, besides food, lavish housing, better cars and a host of other major possessions that require ever-growing amounts of money to provide. For most families, two adults have to work outside the home to provide for the welfare of the whole. Our standard of living is killing us, but medical technology helps keep us alive.
To some it is clear that this change relates to a more basic faith issue. Primitive peoples trusted God, by whatever name(s) they may have called God, for their existence. Food was abundant in their territories. Populations developed in places that could support them, and oral histories prepared these populations for survival in their particular areas. A pattern to primitive cultures is the ceremonies to their deities of appreciation for needs being met. Populations rose and fell with climatic changes. People lived in the hands of God, and God met their needs.
The ability to cultivate changed the balance of power, at least we thought it did. No longer were we dependent on God for provision, we controlled our own food supply, and if we needed to rearrange God’s creation to do it – so be it. We removed forests and wild vegetation to make room for crops. In this respect our culture began to perceive Gods creation as errant. God’s Earth was a wild and dangerous place, certainly not acceptable for a cultured race. We knew better than God what our environment should be like and we’ve been reshaping it ever since.
Humankind also began to kill for something other than food or territorial rights, which are the most natural reasons. We started to systematically remove our competition for resources. When we removed a forest or plain, to plant crops or raise livestock, we killed the critters that would eat our produce or the predators that would feed on our animals. After we changed God’s creation to suit our perception of our world, we judged the animals God provided as to their suitability in it.
It naturally followed that we could also remove our human competitors for similar reasons. If in doubt about this, please refer to Genesis for the story of Cain and Abel. Cain, having had his gift to God rejected, killed his brother Abel, whose gift was cherished. Instead of protecting our territory, mankind began to kill to gain someone else’s resources or to remove competition. They had something we didn’t, and we wanted it – so therefore, as rulers of what was now OUR creation, we went to war to get it. Most wars, despite other religious or moral reasons given, have been about controlling resources – collecting things.
OK. So what? How does that affect us here and now?
In essence we rule this world in a selfish manner – not God’s way. When we feel magnanimous, we find ourselves wanting to help the Third World, with charity or missions, but we don’t grasp our involvement in their situation to begin with. Consider the following scenario:
National Geographic explorers find a hereto for unknown tribe living in Papua. Their lifestyle is primitive and idyllic. We set about studying this aberrant group of humans to learn more about where we have come from. In the process, we display all the trappings of our wealth and prominence – planes, jeeps, video equipment, clothes, etc. They tend to regard us as gods, or at least the remarkably advanced population that we are, and begin to emulate us. We introduce many, many things to their culture, some of which may actually be helpful.
In this process we realize they have something of special interest to us – a natural resource we don’t have or have previously squandered. We make arrangements with the government, if it is easily controlled, or a multinational corporation to extract the resources these people have.
In exchange we give them modernity, and the realization that they are poor by the world’s standards. We teach them to clear-cut in order to farm, while, of course, we make use of the exotic hardwoods. We teach them there is such a thing as a global economy, in which they cannot participate. We send missionaries to convert them, and to create dependency on our culture.
Then we call them a member in good standing of the Third World.
What have we accomplished here? We have taken a people who live, literally, in the palm of God’s hand and converted them to knowledge of their absolute poverty. We have also taken their resources to satisfy our appetite for things. We essentially teach them that God’s hands can’t be trusted – but ours can.
Can’t happen? Consider Ethiopia. When “discovered” by the Western world it was a paradise. Tribal life was common, and very successful. Ethiopia had something very valuable – exotic lumber in some of the most verdant tropical rainforests on earth. We converted the economy to an agricultural base, necessitating, of course, the clear-cutting and exportation of timber. By the early 20th century Ethiopia was the breadbasket of northern Africa – by agricultural standards a huge success. But by the fifties every trace of rain forest was gone, and soil erosion and over-farmed land became a massive problem, resulting in today’s dependency on the rest of the world for survival. Ethiopia is in constant drought and famine. Ethiopia does not have a problem of overpopulation, but simply a loss of resources.
The First World participates in the daily trials of Third World countries, without any thought by the majority of the population. The First World possesses within its borders 20% of the world’s population and 32% of the world’s resources. However, we consume 67% of the world’s resources in an effort to maintain or improve our lifestyle. The Third World, with 80% of the world’s population should have to make do with 68% of the gifts God gave us, but instead have to manage with 33%.
Every time they are without a necessity, we should be thinking about our complicity. Every time we indulge our need to have more, we should think about who goes hungry. More-for-less – the mantra of consumerism – invariably means that someone else gets less for more. Our appetites, our sense of need, our greed destroys creation and impoverishes other peoples. And more often than not we do this with some claim to God’s special blessing on our bloated society.
But what of leadership as exemplified by King David? Is it too late to change or are we destined to be like Saul and Absalom? It will only happen with each person making an individual decision about what caring for God’s creation looks like. We just better decide soon.