"The Relative Value of Animals... and the rest of God's Natural Creation"


A sermon based on Genesis 1:26-31 & Matthew 10:29-31 & 12:9-16

When we think of God as the Creator of all things -- from the first burst of light energy in Genesis, Chapter 1, to the creation of humanity as its crowning glory (in the text we heard this morning)… it makes us think about what it means to have “dominion” -- power over other parts of nature.

As I read it, God has the hope that we (human beings) would manage the affairs of earth with the same care as God showed in the beginning.

“God created humankind in God’s own image . . . male and female God created them. God blessed them, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:27-28) : “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

The poet/priests who wrote Genesis point out that God has (apparently) made human beings “master” over God’s handwork. In Church we call that ‘stewardship’ -- care for the earth (care for its resources, care for the animals and the elements, care for the climate), care for the household of God, as though it were ours... but it isn’t.

The Psalmist (in Psalm 24, verse 1), reminds us that everything really belongs to God: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it.” All the makings for life itself were here before we humans arrived, and it will all outlast us -- if we tend it well. . . So far, you could say, we’re doing okay.

God blessed them and said to them: “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it...” The spread of humankind over the face of the globe -- six-or-seven billion strong! with no signs of abating -- has been an explosion of one species (ours) such that no part of the ecosystem is unaffected by human society. The oceans and the atmosphere, the polar ice caps and the tropical rain forests, all feel the impact of humans multiplying, and filling the earth, and subduing it.

It is by the grace of God that we enjoy “dominion” over the other creatures and systems on earth. It is not because we are inherently sovereign, nor because we have deserved a place of honor and power, nor that we have proven ourselves worthy of such a trust. No... God has simply trusted us to get it right: trusted us, that we will serve the whole of Creation with the same goodwill and parental concern that God the Creator has toward our living world.

Our “dominion” is to be exercised with responsibility because it is subject to accountability to God. According to Genesis, the world and all its inhabitants are given over to human management precisely at the point when the Creator judges everything to be ‘very good’ … and God rests. The interrelationships of organisms within their respective environments, as well as the relations between the species, is entirely harmonious and mutually beneficial. (In effect, God says: Well done! Let’s keep it that way.)

Everything up ’til this point has been the work of God, by divine word & investment of energy, evolving the universe into its present form. The completion of that 15-billion year cosmological drama is now in human hands. … “Are we up to it?”

According to the Bible, the blessed and sacred character of the living world (and the universe which brought it into being) is now in our hands to administer and to manage.

In my opinion, the fact that we are given dominion (free will to rule freely) over all the natural resources and creatures of earth is not a license to exploit nature but to manage it with utmost care for us and for our future generations. Each of us is a free agent, says Genesis, to act as God would act: utilizing dominion so that all may flourish!

If our stewardship of life (and all its resources) is to be patterned after God’s own creative design (and if our behavior is to be representative of God’s own desire for the well-being and flourishing of the world), what does that entail?

First, we are told to be “fruitful” -- even as God has been exuberantly fruitful in the profligate creativity that continues to evolve in complexity (and diversity and beauty) all around us.

God has given birth to the whole intricate cosmos, as a gift of grace & generosity which we enjoy. A Spirit of gratitude is in order (wouldn’t you say?)! We didn’t earn this marvelous wonder of night & day, earth & sky, colors & smells, breath & life & love. It’s all a gift, free & clear, with no strings attached, from God.

But gratitude is not enough. It’s important, but it doesn’t do anything. Feeling thankful is a first step in recognizing that we are recipients of unearned resources. And in all things, in every moment of life, we should be thankful... but it’s only the first step.

In exchange for being given God’s own Carte Blanche -- in exchange for the gift of our life and breath and daily bread -- God only asks that we be in relationship with the rest of nature with the same sort of style and attitude as God’s own. God asks that we relate to the world around us as though we were (in fact) God’s own image, God’s likeness, at work among them.

To be sure that human beings would be successful in that relationship, God has given us “dominion.” It is another gift of grace, with no strings attached, based upon the assumption (on God’s part) that we human beings will use our power wisely and well in order to accomplish God’s own design. As I said before: God has trusted us...

And (frankly) in that, perhaps, are the seeds of disaster.

You see, some folks think of “dominion” as an opportunity for exploitation -- the divine gift of human “power” over nature is taken to mean “domination.” The command to “fill the earth and subdue it” is understood to mean (by some) to “conquer it and control it.” (!) To see “dominion” as having “power-over” others is used to justify taking advantage of the disadvantaged.

Clearly the great Creator God (who is revealed in Hebrew Scripture and further revealed in the life of Jesus Christ) -- who loves what God has made -- does not intend “dominion” to play itself out in arrogance & plunder! It is designed to assist us in being “fruitful,” not being harmful; enabling us to be “creative” like God is creative & productive, not destructive.

I’d like us to consider redefining “dominion” away from having “power” over nature, to (instead) being plugged in to the power of nature (at its generating source): God. In other words, we are “empowered” by God to achieve God’s Dream… God’s will being done one earth (as it is I heaven); as it was in the beginning.