In Genesis 1:26 we find the statement upon which much of our thought about the earth, the environment, and animals is based. “ . . . let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing.” In other words the human race has been put in charge of this planet. We have clearly risen to a point where we, as a species, are dominant. Some might even say that this is by God’s design.
Does God care about what happens to His creation? Clearly He does. We must look no farther than Matthew 6:25–26 “Look at the birds of the air for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” And Proverbs 12:10 says that “The righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” Clearly God cares about His animal creations. He cares so much that He even provides a caretaker – the human race.
So, what does this dominion mean? How are we to exercise it? Who is our model for all things – Jesus. Since Jesus is both God and man, is Divine in and of Himself, He clearly had more right to dominion, more natural authority than any other human. How did He exercise His dominion? Matthew 20:28 says “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as ransom for many.”
If we are to be as Jesus shows us, and we are to exercise our dominion, as we are charged in Genesis, how are we to act? What is this dominion to be? Service!
We have clearly had it backwards for centuries. The world does not exist for us, we exist for it. The earth is the property of God, and we are His stewards, His caretakers. But this kind of stewardship does not imply domination, exploitation, and destruction. It does imply, as does virtually Jesus' entire life, that we are to live for others. And these others are not only human beings.
Just as we are to live in service to other humans, just as we are to live in service to God, we are also to live in service to the earth and all of its inhabitants. This is God’s vision for us – protectors of the earth. We have utterly failed at this mission.
Not only have we taken the natural resources of the earth and consumed them, leaving only exhausted wastelands behind us, but we have also taken the other inhabitants of this planet and made them our slaves, our tasters, and our food. The animals of the world are tortured in the billions for food, in the millions in laboratories and in countless numbers for clothing, sport, and violence.
As a species we have taken God’s wonderful plan, and His gift to us, this planet, and destroyed them utterly. We have so misunderstood God’s plan that we have brought His world to the brink of environmental catastrophe while we swim in the rivers of blood created by our slaughterhouses and laboratories.
What would God say about how we have handled this responsibility? “ . . . throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30) This verse is taken from the parable of the talents, where punishment is meted out to an unworthy servant.
The point is that we are doing the exact opposite of what God intended. We have turned authority into despotism, responsibility in license, service into tyranny. We have subverted the very meaning of creation and our relationship to the created world. And in doing this we have broken our relationship with God.
If we believe that God created the world, then why were animals given the ability to feel pain? Clearly this is an ability that protects them from injury and allows them to survive. Are we to inflict pain on creation? Are we to kill wantonly?
What is God’s vision for the world? Isaiah 11:6 says:
“The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.”
The picture that this presents is one of peace and co-existence, not slaughter and bloodlust. If we are to live in the midst of God’s vision for the world, then we must realize that this world belongs not to humans, but to the Creator – and that if we are to serve the Creator them we must serve His Creation too.