Lessons in Growth Meditations: 41. Subduing the Earth
Gen 1:28 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.”
In the previous study we wrote, “Authority in this case is the right to operate under God’s name to bring about the rule or kingdom of God on the earth. We have the right from God to, in general terms, go and make disciples for Jesus and as he leads us, to cast out demons and bring healing.” That is the New Testament mandate, post the Cross, but for an even wider picture we need to go back to the beginning of the Bible.
Now I have to confess I considered putting this particular study in the ‘Theory’ section of Part 3 but eventually considered that unless we see it in practical terms it really just remains head knowledge, and almost pointless. So here goes, first the theory.
In our verse above we have what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Creation mandate’ and it is basically in two parts: i) “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth,” and then, ii) “and subdue it.” The word ‘rule’ that follows clearly puts mankind in a superior position to any other living creatures but what ‘rule’ means there is left to speculation but the words we have picked out, “and subdue it,” leave little room for speculation especially, later on, when we see that working the earth after the fall is going to be hard work (see Gen 3:17-19). Now as population and culture developed, a literal ‘working the earth’ became the domain of only a relative few.
The vast majority of us are not involved in agriculture or horticulture. But if ‘earth’ is taken to have a bigger meaning – the whole of human life existence on this planet – then it suggests something much, much greater. Any activity to do with mankind’s habitation of this planet must fall under this heading and that must include anything whatsoever that improves life for mankind and so that includes medicine, science, technology, food provision, government, and the arts to mention just some of such areas.
Now a false dichotomy has grown up in popular thinking, between spiritual and non-spiritual, a hangover from the thinking of Plato (how these things hang around!), but anything that can be included in my list in the previous paragraph is ‘spiritual’ because it is something given to us to do by God. Now the only things that are outside that will be things that go expressly against God’s design for His world, so anything specifically harming or oppressing other people (e.g. slavery) is obviously outside that mandate. Producing, selling, and distributing illicit drugs would also be a no-go. You may think of others.
Now those running on an ‘environmental ticket’ might question whether doing any sort of work that can harm the world or the people on it (e.g. working in the tobacco industry) might fit that ‘no-go’ growing list and where we are in questionable areas, we have to ask ourselves and the Lord, “If this the area I should be in, and if not, what else could I do?”
So far, in recent studies, we have been considering things that are usually considered well and truly spiritual things, things to do with the bringing in of the rule of God to overcome sin, but whenever I have read people writing on this ‘creation mandate’ and the nature of our jobs in this present world, it seems to be that most effort is made in justifying what were once called ‘secular’ jobs (as I have done above) to such a degree that the writer only works on a ‘do your best in your job’ approach meaning be the best worker you can be. Now although I agree with that, it can be a godless approach and everything I have been saying in this entire series is to be seen from the viewpoint of ‘God first’ or at the very least, ‘God involved’.
In the relatively recent studies, I did four that considered a hypothetical series of events that sprung out of a prayer meeting that took the life of God into the job of one of the prayer group. Now if that just seemed too way out for you, then perhaps the question should be raised, “Can you see God in your workplace, someone spoken about at least to those closest to you, can you see opportunities for informally sharing your faith, and offering prayer?” How many of us tolerate working environments or learning conditions that are unrighteous or, at the very least, could be seriously improved?
Bringing the kingdom of God into these environments, I want to suggest, probably needs to start in a prayer group as I showed, who should then bring that working environment to the Lord to see how He might want to change it – possibly through you. I look back on my working life into these sorts of environment with regret. No one taught me these sorts of things and so I was a lonely example of righteousness in an ungodly environment in otherwise fine and acceptable careers. I don’t think I did it well, even though I believe I did my job well; there was a better way and I have sought to show that in these recent studies. It is not spiritual or secular but God in every sphere of work. The big question is, how far will be let Him have space to move so that we can be people of faith in the midst of these places? Can other people find and meet God in work or learning environments through us, or will we accept ungodly thinking that relegates such things to ‘church’ or ‘missions’ or ‘campaigns’? May that not be so.