Down the Rabbit Hole, I Go
Every pastor has their favorite quotes. I am no exception. Whether it is from Augustine, Calvin, or Charles Spurgeon, quotes can make a point, turn a phrase, or leave you mesmerized with the desire to hear more. Here is one of my favorites from 19th-century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper.
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!– Abraham Kuyper
If you rejoice in the sovereignty of God over all things, you love this quote. Christ rules over all that He has created. From on high, King Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the Father. Our ancient creeds and the reformed Christian tradition affirm the present kingship of Jesus. However, I wonder how many Christians, pastors, and theologians understand the implications of declaring that Jesus is sovereign over every square inch. So many Christians, even in the reformed tradition, theologically believe Jesus is sovereign, yet functionally live with their hair on fire. After watching only five minutes of Fox News or MSNBC, Christians meltdown in the corner with their arms holding their knees. Now, hear me out. Sometimes the world is on fire. I get it. Could you find me the closest fire extinguisher? But the fire taking place does not mean Christ is not sovereign. Nor does it mean that the will of Christ does not continue to move forward over his creation. Quite the opposite is true. Jesus rules, and no one can take that away from Him, and the will of God is being worked out over every square inch of his creation.
Agriculture and Animals
One day I was helping my wife bring in a young colt. She pulled out the iPhone and recorded me and the colt, and it ended up on social media. I believe she called us “barn bros.” A friend of mine saw the video and made a comment about taking dominion. He pointed out that God has entrusted man to take dominion over creation, which includes plants and animals. I’ll speak more about that briefly, but I first want to offer an observation.
Since moving from my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa, I have lived in urban and suburban areas, including the Twin Cities of Minnesota and the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill metro. Rural America was simply a place I drove through to get to the next big city. But in 2018, my wife asked me about living in the country. I didn’t have a reason not to live in the country, provided I could effectively be a pastor of a small church plant. Well, it all worked out, and we found ourselves in a big ole farmhouse across the gravel road from soy and corn fields. After building a considerable chicken coup on wheels, the Powers family settled in rural Iowa. As each week went by, and my appreciation for country life grew, I began to notice the value of getting my hands dirty. After building the coup, I built several raised garden beds for my wife. The chickens were a source of eggs and meat, and the gardens gave us produce. There was something satisfying about working with my hands. Yes, I was serving my wife, but I also took dominion over our home.
The farmers in the field also offer an example of individuals taking dominion over the land. In May, the seed goes into the ground, and the crop is harvested in the fall. A lot goes on between planting and harvest, so the farmer needs to know his land. Where have crops been washed out when there is too much rain? What is the plan if there is a drought? Taking dominion requires taking responsibility and embracing the challenges that exist in the land.
So, my observation is this: Taking dominion in the areas designated to you by God is hard work and requires taking responsibility.
Back to the Beginning
The mandate from God for man to take dominion over the earth is first found in Genesis 1. After we read that God created man and woman in his image and likeness, we read,
And God blessed them. And God 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”– Genesis 1:28
Out of everything in God’s creation, only man and woman are created in His image and likeness. God has entrusted his image-bears to steward creation. We continue to read,
And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”– Genesis 1:29-30
The text could not be more explicit. Creation was created for man. Before the Fall and the Law, man’s objective has been to make babies, fill the earth, and teach that God’s creation is for man and woman to take dominion over the land, the plants, and the animals. Theologians call the dominion mandate a creation ordinance. In Genesis 1 and 2, there is clear guidance about how men and women are to live.
What You Have Been Told
Within Christian circles, there have been several prevailing messages about the relationship between man and God’s creation. The first message is no message at all. There is no teaching on the relationship between man and creation. When a Christian picks up packaged chicken from the grocery store, there is never a thought that the chicken came from an egg. It was raised and then butchered. When a Christian grabs the bag of apples, there is no interest in thinking about where the apples came from. Apple trees are simply something you read about in a book in the fourth grade. I am not looking to know if the chicken had a name, and I do not need to know the person who picked the apple. But the lack of interest reveals that in our microwave culture, where everything is immediate and neatly given to us, there is a lack of understanding about taking dominion over God’s creation.
The second message has to do with gasoline and a match. It’s the let-it-burn segment of Christianity. These folks do not see the creation (or a vocation, for that matter) as something to be stewarded for God. But because the world is going to hell in a handbasket, there is no need to try to redeem it. These folks have a pessimistic view of the world.
Both groups may affirm that Jesus is Lord over every square inch, but they need to see the implications of Jesus being Lord over every square inch. Aside from the inconsistency, I am convinced that it is unbiblical to be naive or negative toward God’s creation and his created order.
What You Need to Know
In Luke 10, Jesus sends out his disciplines two by two. They do not go out as Mormon missionaries but as followers of God who have been given authority from Jesus. This was boot camp for what was coming down the road. And here is what we read after the disciplines returned.
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!“ And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”– Luke 10:17–20
It was not just the faithful 11 and their plus one (Judas) who were sent out. Seventy-two people went out, and they all had the authority of God. Of course, the focus of this passage is on evangelism. Jesus is preparing his followers to carry forward the gospel message after his ascension. But once again, the reason why they are able to go is that Jesus gives them authority. Matthew 28 makes the same point.
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.– Matthew 28:18–20
Combining Two Points
There might be a temptation to focus on the spiritual over the physical or the physical over the spiritual. And the fact is that God has called his people to have dominion over both aspects of his creation. The physical and spiritual are deeply intertwined. We are not supposed to parse out the spiritual from the physical or vice-versa. What does this mean? As Christians obey Matthew 28, God’s elect people will respond to the voice of their shepherd. When God spiritually awakens a person, then there are physical implications. For example, if God saves a husband and father, how he loves his wife and children will change because the gospel demands change. How he views money, sex, entertainment, etc., will change. If God saves a verbally abusive or porn-addicted husband, there will be a noticeable change, and then a wife and children will be affected. The change might be incremental but incremental steps of change into the image of Christ is a massive change from the old sterile and abusive ways.
Here is my point. As the gospel of Jesus Christ continues to be preached, families and communities will change to the glory of God. When this happens, God’s image bearers must realize they are to have dominion over everything God has given them. A home is a place where godly dominion can be exercised. A job or career is a place where dominion can be exercised. When Dad volunteers to coach little Jonny’s baseball team, there are opportunities to exercise dominion. You do not need to be a farmer to fulfill the dominion mandate. You need a human pulse, a regenerated heart, and an eagerness to obey. Take dominion.
Over every square inch of God’s creation, Jesus Christ cries mine. And the way that the authority of Christ is brought to bear is through God’s people, the church – universal and local. We are to take dominion by proclaiming the gospel and by developing communities where the teachings of Christ are lived out. Obeying the dominion mandate is hard work, but it is the responsibility of the Christian to pursue it.