Dominion with Christ

In the Genesis creation narrative we read of God’s vocational calling for Adam and Eve. “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” [Gen. 1:26].

The call to “have dominion” over all the creatures on the earth is intriguing. But let me say right away that this won’t be about Dominion Theology. I’m alert to the movement and I’m not going there.

Instead I’d like to explore a more Trinitarian approach to creation. What did God have in mind in giving Adam this role? And how does it fit into the prior hint about God’s Triune reality—recalling his language of plurality: the “us” along with “our image” and “our likeness” in speaking of Adam’s creation as the male-and-female “man”?

Was God, perhaps, sharing his own joy in caring for the creation? The saying of Jesus points to this joy in Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive”—and sets up the prospect that God gave Adam’s offspring the blessing of caring for creatures and their habitats.

So is human dominion our opportunity to take up a caring role in support of the more dependent creatures on earth? Everyone who enjoys domesticated animals—including pets—certainly has a taste of this pleasure.

Or, in a different tack, was God also giving humanity space to explore creative hospitality? Is the earth a realm where we are free to host each other; and, ultimately, to welcome God as our guest? This presumes that every face-to-face relationship needs a location for meeting.

But first we recall that every space belongs to God, the Creator. So in granting the earth to us as a gift—as our own space-for-dominion—was he giving us a locale where we get to be like him? To have a space of our own in which we can be sub-creators? This view highlights the earth as a setting meant for communion. A simple analogy would be in parents giving a child his or her “own” room to enjoy and manage.

This seems likely, especially if we reread the Genesis chapter one creation as a relational event: with the Son and Spirit fulfilling the Father’s creation purpose in the context of God’s shared pleasure.

The Son’s lead role in creation is affirmed in John 1:3, Colossians 4:16, and Hebrews 1:2. The Word, with his Spirit, called the universe into place by a set of creation words. And in each case the Father declared the new facet of creation “good.” So it appears to us that creation was an intra-Trinitarian moment of mutual sharing: of divine act and response.

As this opportunity for mutual sharing is extended to us we get to taste a sense of God’s delight in caring for us. With a part of the creation under our care and management we have space to offer creative care to him in return.

The clues in favor of this view include God’s visit to Eden to see Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. With human responsibility for the earth in mind this visit can be seen as a moment when the humans were hosting God. We don’t find a formal “arrangement” for the visit in the narrative but that isn’t needed. What’s suggested is that open communion was already in place.

A second facet of this reading, from a few verses earlier in Genesis, is that Adam and Eve ceded their dominion to the serpent when they followed him. So while they still had dominion over the earth Satan now had dominion over their hearts; and with that he usurped their role.

Even today Satan rules most human hearts as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” [Eph. 2:1-3].

This, in turn, fits the exchange between Jesus and Satan in Matthew 4:8&9—“the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” Notice the arrogant irony of the devil’s offer—he would return the rule of human hearts to Jesus if Jesus would give his own heart over to Satan’s evil ambition! It was a deal Jesus instantly dismissed.

Notice that Jesus didn’t contest Satan’s claim of dominion over the world. Sinful disobedience is Satan’s means of power over humanity—and over all the earth by his ruling human hearts.

This, in turn, helps answer the ancient question, Cur Deus Homo?—“Why did God become a man?” Part of the answer is that Jesus became a man in order to restore human dominion over the earth. He, the new Adam, overturned Satan’s rule by refusing to follow the first Adam. Where Adam submitted, Jesus resisted.

And with that he reestablished human dominion—a new kingdom—on earth that rejects Adam’s collapse and walks in Christ’s success. It also allows us to host God, in Christ, by inviting him to dwell in our hearts—and in any part of the world where we live out our new life with Christ.

Pay close attention, then, to our invitation to this renewed domain—from Colossians 1:12-14—“… giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

Now, let’s welcome God to our domain-in-Christ and share it with others!

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About R N Frost

R N (Ron) Frost is a student of history, especially the history of Christian spirituality. Ron served for more than 20 years at a Portland, OR, college and seminary. At the seminary, from 1995-2007, he was a professor of historical theology and ethics. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. This involves a number of trips to worldwide destinations each year, each by invitation. All his services are gratis, so ministry partners are needed and welcomed. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.