Genesis says that we have 'dominion' (Hebrew word
radah). In view of this, what should we ?
You have heard it said that we should not see ourselves as consumers of the rest of creation, using it for our own pleasure, convenience or to serve our own agendas (as Humanism has assumed), but as stewards of it. We should recognise that the rest of creation belongs to God and so we should care for it for that reason. But I want to suggest another role: shepherds of the rest of creation.
Stewards are responsible to the Owner to manage his resources, and expect to give an account when the Owner returns. As long as we remember Whose it is, do our duty, don't mess it up, and can give a good account for what we have done with it, then we have been good stewards. This is better than seeing creation as ours, but it does not go far enough, for several reasons:
This is where the New View comes in. Perhaps we should see ourselves, not as stewards, but more like good shepherss.
A good shepherd does not just look after the sheep on behalf of the owner, but actively loves the sheep and even lays down his life for the sheep. (Where have Christians heard that before?) God wants more than mere management or stewardship; he wants us to love the rest of creation as he does. Since God is love [I John 4] God gives himself on behalf of those less than him. In the same way, we who are like God are called not just to manage, but to love and give ourselves on behalf of those less than we are. As God loves and desires to bless the other (his creation) even at his own expense, so we are called to love the rest of creation and desire to bless even at our own expense. (Good) shepherds do this for their sheep. This New View in theology calls us to go further than being stewards, to be shepherds of the rest of creation.
When we love the rest of creation, as the New View interpretation of radah implies, we are relating to it in the way God would: with self-giving love. He loves everything he has made. We also should love it. In this way, we are like God to the rest of creation: we are the image of God. Being image of God is constituted in showing what God is like to the rest of creation, in a way that the rest of creation can appreciate and respond to. If the trees clap their hands in the presence of the Living God, they should feel similar joy in the presence of those who bear the image of God. Being image of God implies having the same attitude towards the rest of creation that God has, and enacting that attitude in our lives.
As we shall see later, this radah-as-love is not just for the pre-Fall Garden of Eden, but is what is restored in Rich Redemption and is what will continue into eternity under the theme of Representation.
Evangelical US Christians like Richard Cizik have moved from the wrong-radah of James Watt [Note 1] through into stewardship. Cizik says "Dominion does not mean destroy, subdue does not mean take advantage of. There's a new concept of stewardship we intend to present to religious communities." This emerging view is to be welcomed. Am I criticising it too harshly? No, but just as to pull yourself up higher you need a handhold above you, so perhaps what I propose is that handhold.
This New View does not negate the idea of stewards, or even using the rest of creation as resources. These are still included, but it puts them both in perspective:
So, to sum up, the good-shepherd, radah-as-love view of our relationship with the rest of creation, does three things that the steward view on its own does not.
So, while there is some validity in the steward view, it is not the whole, nor even main truth. Our role is not just to be stewards but to be good shepherds.
(See also an earlier page on Radah.)
Why does it matter? It matters both practically and theologically. Theologically, because only the third ties in with our also having a role of being image of God and with God as love; the other two are in tension with these. Practically, because it affects how we treat it.
We do go a bit too far in saying "Not". Howard Snyder [Note] discusses these three sakes (as well as a couple of others, e.g. for sake of mission). He believes they are all true. We can say that dominion is partly for our sake, in the sense that we have a right to fashion it, so that the weak species that is humanity can survive and so we can be part of the creation rather than isolated from it. Dominion is for His (God's) sake in that he owns it, rejoices in it and loves it, and wants it developed. Dominion for God's sake is stewardship which, as we saw above is not enough.
But these two sakes are very well known, and over the past thirty years there has been considerable debate that has moved Christians from the first (our sake) to the second (God's sake). But the idea that our dominion is for its sake is new and seldom yet discussed, so it needs emphasis here. And it is the third that is most commensurate with "God is love", and which is most closely linked with being the image of God.
Now, how does this radah-as-love and image of God work out in practice? For this we need to understand the interconnected nature of the creation of which we are part and within which we are to be good shepherds.
This page is offered to God as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2013, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
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