Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 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.” Genesis 1:26-28
As we consider our role as stewards of God’s creation we must wrestle with this text which has been so desperately abused. Genesis 1:26 is written as one sentence for a very important purpose. There is an unbreakable link between God’s stated desire to “make mankind in our image” and his reason, “so that they might rule.” Our understanding of what it means to rule over creation is totally defined by the fact that we bear God’s image in everything we do. There are some in the evangelical world who treat this text as if there was no link whatsoever between these two parts of the same sentence. This has produced two extreme errors.
The first error is to equate “rule” with “own.” We have treated creation as if God said to the first couple, “I no longer own any of this, it’s all yours, rule over it and do with it whatever you wish.” And so we rule, not as bearers of the image of God, but as despots and tyrants, believing that creation is here simply for us to use for our own desires and good pleasure. Once we believe that we truly own this world, we will make it subservient to our own pursuit of happiness. The ecological crisis we face around the globe bears witness to the fruit of this ownership mentality.
The second error is to “rule over” out of neglect. That is, to believe the earth will always be here and nothing we do can change that. So we live a self-centered life and neglect our responsibility to nurture and care for the creation. When we rule over it in a disinterested way we lose the connection between bearing God’s image and his charge to us to rule over creation. The result is similar to that of the first error, a creation that is laid to waste because of our own self-interest, and the abdication of our responsibility to be his caretakers.
To avoid both errors we must always hold together these two parts of this important proclamation from the Creator; we bear God’s image as we rule over God’s creation. In every thing we do in relationship to his created world, we are to be the hands, the heart, and the presence of the God who lovingly created it and who provides for it every day. It is our humble privilege to be coworkers with God in tending to this incredible planet. When we set aside our desire to own, and reject the temptation to neglect, we take upon ourselves the mantle of the faithful steward, the loving caretaker who rules over creation just like God rules over us; with love, compassion, tenderness, and sacrificial service. That is the only way we can truly bear God’s image in our role as rulers of creation.
I want you to imagine that you have created a wonderful little vegetable garden. You have spent countless hours in the hot sun constructing raised beds, installing a watering system, selecting the right soil, and carefully planting row after row of seeds. Your hard work and patience paid off and the garden is in full bloom. Every day you go out and pick the weeds, make sure the water is working well, and check the fence to make sure no rabbits or other animals can get in to eat your crop. And then you decide to go away for a week. You ask a dear friend to take care of the garden for you while you are gone. To make sure they understand exactly what needs to be done, you sit down and write a very careful list of exactly what they need to do in order to be sure the garden as well tended in your absence. Take a moment and write down for yourself what you think you would include on that list. Be specific; watering twice a day, weeding, checking the fence, looking for bugs, harvesting as needed, etc. Now take a look at that list and ask yourself, as one who is given the supreme privilege and vocation of representing God and his creation in caring for this world, what kind of list has God left you as a steward of creation? How well do you know what is on that list, and how faithful are you in carrying it out as you bear his image in this world?
Dear heavenly Father, creator of the world, thank you for creating me in your image and giving me the vocation of ruling over your world. I confess that I have not often enough considered my responsibility and privilege in doing this work. Forgive me Lord when I have viewed your world through the eyes of either the owner or with the heart of neglect. Cultivate in me the heart of a faithful steward. Give me clarity in this vocation, that I may carry out this work in a way that pleases you, serves my neighbor and bears witness to the world that I am your child. You have left me an incredible gift in this creation, help me to rule over it with love, care, service and wisdom. In these ways Lord, help me to bear your image in this world, because I know that you rule over me in exactly the same way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.