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Dominion

By Published On: March 4, 20240 Comments on Dominion

We live in an age in which easy technology like social media and data-driven influence drive us away from local, community issues and into larger global debates. Yet, as we enter these debates, we all too often find that detail and nuance are reduced to sloganeering, and the most crucial, relevant ideas and explanations are left ill-considered. We could cite any issue as evidence, but the existential threat of climate change may loom largest.

I’m conflicted about climate change. Yes, I know it’s real. The data from international agencies corresponds to the simple reality that my neighborhood on a barrier island in New Jersey floods more than it used to. Both global science and local experience verify this.

Yet I can clearly see how proposed solutions to a changing climate will increase inequality both in the United States and internationally, especially in third-world countries where the raw materials necessary for new technologies are mined. I think these issues are clear to anyone who honestly considers climate change and its repercussions and its possible remedies. But this clarity muddies when policy is proposed.

So I pray, and look to scripture, and consider our role as people on an ever-changing planet as residents in and stewards of creation.

In Genesis 1:26-30, God creates humankind and gives man and woman dominion over all the plants and seeds, all the beasts of the land, birds in the sky, and fish in the sea. And then, in Genesis 1:31, He sees that all he has made is very good. My daughter, in studying this passage in parochial school, speaks of stewardship. But in the NRSV it’s not there. The Word only speaks of dominion.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, dominion is defined as sovereignty or control, supremacy or dominance. Where does this leave our relationship with creation? Is the world ours to tend or ours to bend? The struggle of our relationship to the world we live in is central to our faith, for God rested knowing all He had made was very good. What happens when we change that? Are there limits to our “dominion?”

Psalm 8 takes up the question. But it takes a curious turn for a Psalm. Whereas most Psalms are direct appeals to God by the psalmist, Psalm 8 veers into the third person and sings of them, a little lower than God, to whom God has given dominion over the works of His hands. Not me, not us, but them.

This is something to meditate on. Scripture is meant to challenge us, especially we in this modern, post-religious world. We turn to it to illuminate our lives today by interpreting words from millennia ago. And here, in some disturbing sense, perhaps things have always been the same. Perhaps for both blame and solutions we have always sought someone else. Perhaps when presented with crises in dominion we have always left it to them.

This makes confronting issues like climate change incredibly easier. For it’s not our fault. We rail about how they must change, and proscribe behavior by them, and insist they make sacrifices in their failings of dominion over creation. But their failings are ours, too. For in an honest appraisal of Psalm 8, if humankind has dominion, and if we are human, then we are them. The psalmist is not just an observer of humankind, as is revealed in the last line of the Psalm as it shifts back to the first person: O Lord, our sovereign. We are not mere observers of climate change. We have a role in its cause and its solution. Here we can rightly be called stewards of creation, and we are called to carefully cultivate it to all of creation’s benefit while God rests.

Which brings us back to dominion. I don’t think we’ll successfully cope with climate change until we view it as an opportunity. This is the only hope for my daughter’s generation. We pass a world of seemingly insurmountable challenges into the empire of their imagination. And faith. They will meet the challenges. With gifts of foresight and ingenuity they will solve them. Maybe here the third person in Psalm 8 makes sense. We, we older generations, delivered the problem. Our children will approach the challenges we are just beginning to see with eyes that look clearly into the future to growth, prosperity, and stewardship. It is too costly to go back. It is impossible, and undesirable, to put on the breaks. Yet with our children in the lead we can adjust our world to meet the challenges of a changing climate and the economic effects of how we all approach it.

Here, in harnessing our creativity and our full potential as humans made in the image of God, we can apply sovereignty and control to the vast challenges of making life on earth livable and prosperous for all – in the ways that we apply the intellect and fortitude that God gave each of us. We must take personal responsibility and community action to look ahead bravely and compassionately, for the benefit of all we have been entrusted with.

We will achieve this if we believe in our, and especially our children’s, potential for good. We can prosper, what is made can be very good, and God can rest.

 

George Hofmann writes the newsletter Practicing Mental Illness. He lives in Philadelphia, PA and Atlantic City, NJ with his wife, their daughter, too much coffee, and a particularly exuberant dog.

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