Christianity has been blamed for causing ecological damage because of the biblical command to have dominion over all creation. The following is a response to that criticism but it is not just a defence of Christianity but rather it sets the biblical teaching in its context.
At the outset we need to see what Genesis actually says,
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 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.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Genesis 1:27-31)
The first thing we need to notice is that the command was given to humankind before the fall into sin. Therefore our first question of the text must be what does this imply in a perfect situation? It obviously does not imply exploitation of creation but rather caring for it. Mans dominion over creation reflects God’s image and therefore must reflect the love and care that God has for his creation. We are called to be stewards of God’s creation, as stewards of creation we are expected to release creations full potential in a way that is natural to it. This text taken in context calls us to conserve the planet’s resources and to care for animals, birds and vegetation alike. god’s continuing care for hiss creation can be seen in Genesis 8,
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
Here we see that God intended that his creation would develop after the flood and it is in this context and that of god’s covenant promise that we are to se the call to Noah to rule in creation. The covenant promise shows God’s faithful care for his creation and Noah is to live in the light of that covenant (see Genesis 8 and 9).
We could look at many passages in the scripture but I want to look at how God instructed his people to live in the law given to Moses. Even in warfare creation is cared for, read the following passage carefully,
19 “If you besiege a town for many days to make war against it in order to seize it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them, for you may eat from them, and so you must not cut them down. Are the trees of the field humans that they should come in siege ⌊against you⌋? 20 Only the trees that you know ⌊are not fruit trees⌋ you may destroy and you may cut down, and you may build siege works against that city that is making war with you ⌊until it falls⌋.” (Deuteronomy 20:19-20)
The wanton destruction that often accompanies war is expressly forbidden here, instead even in war care is to be taken for creation. If this is the case at a time of war what happens in times of peace? Every seven years the land was to be given rest, the Lord is very clear in what he commands,
25 Then Yahweh spoke to Moses on ⌊Mount Sinai⌋, saying, 2 “Speak to the ⌊Israelites⌋, and say to them, ‘When you come into the land that I am about to give to you, then the land shall observe a Sabbath for Yahweh. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and you shall gather its yield. 4 But in the seventh year it shall be ⌊a Sabbath of complete rest⌋ for the land—a Sabbath for Yahweh; you must not sow your field, and you must not prune your vineyard. 5 You must not reap your harvest’s aftergrowth, and you must not harvest the grapes of your unpruned vines—it shall be ⌊a year of complete rest⌋ for the land. 6 And a Sabbath of the land shall be for food for you: for you and for your slave and for your slave woman and for your hired worker and for your temporary residents who are dwelling as aliens with you; 7 and all its yield shall be for your domestic animal and for the wild animal, which are in your land to eat. (Leviticus 25:1-7)
This is a radical policy of creation care which flies in the face of what we do today, so many of the fields around us testify that they need the rest that God prescribes. Walking in the countryside shows all too clearly how humankind has exploited the earth. We are reaping the consequences of our lack of care for the land. One can extend this to our lake of care for the environment, we are polluting this planet at an alarming rate and in the name of economic progress we continue to make problems for ourselves and everyone else on planet earth.
Another aspect of this as shown in the prophets and in Romans 8 is that creation is groaning under the weight of man’s sin. In the prophet Isaiah we read this terrible description of the result of the sin of humankind,
The earth is utterly broken;
the earth is torn asunder;
the earth is shaken violently.
20 The earth staggers to and fro like the drunkard,
and it sways like a hut,
and its transgression is heavy upon it,
and it falls and does not rise again.
21 And this shall happen on that day:
Yahweh will punish the host of heaven in heaven,
and the kings of the earth on the earth.
22 And they will be gathered in a gathering, like a prisoner ⌊in⌋ a pit.
And they will be shut ⌊in⌋ a prison and be punished ⌊after⌋ many days.
23 And the full moon will be ashamed
and the sun will be ashamed,
for Yahweh of hosts will rule on ⌊Mount Zion⌋ and in Jerusalem,
and before his elders in glory (Is 24:19–23).
The prophet vividly describes the result of sin upon God’s creation and surely we need to take such words with utter seriousness. The apostle Paul in Romans 8 says,
For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us. 19 For the eagerly expecting creation awaits eagerly the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation has been subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its servility to decay, into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers agony together until now. 23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves while we* await eagerly our adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we await it eagerly with patient endurance. (Ro 8:18–25).
Paul tells us clearly that creation is groaning because of the result of sin and he also hold out the hope that one day the creation will be liberated from its bondage. This new creation is also described very vividly in Revelation chapters 21-22. We live in the light of this new creation and we indeed are already a new creation in Christ Jesus,
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 And all these things are from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as if* God were imploring you through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf, in order that we could become the righteousness of God in him. (2 Co 5:17–21).
As we are already a new creation, we should be living as such with renewed minds (see Romans 12:1-2). Christians are called to care for the world that God created, we should be those who recycle everything that can be recycled, we should promote economic justice and the care of the finite resources that God has given us. We in the light of the above should be proclaiming the whole counsel of God, calling people to Christ, who is Lord of all. As we live our lives in the knowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, we will not compartmentalize our lives but rather live our whole lives before the face of God. Let us seek to glorify God in all that we do and to seek his glory in the whole of creation.