March 24, 2021

Subduing the Earth

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”
Genesis 1:28
There are many fundamentalist Christians whose interaction with their natural environment is based on this particular verse of scripture. They believe that, because God has placed human beings at the pinnacle of creation, we have the right—nay, the God-given obligation—to use earth's resources for our benefit, regardless of the impact on other species. The end result, of course, is that we have extracted so much of what benefits us from the earth, and used so much of it, that the earth is increasingly difficult for our own species to inhabit. The only real option, they seem to think, is to deny that what we're doing is, in fact, having any effect on the earth.

Perhaps we've misunderstood that verb subdue, I think. I'll bet it has other, more subtle meanings that would help us understand human stewardship of earth's resources. And, indeed, it does have other meanings... but they take us even further in that same direction. Genesis 1:28 absolutely does give human beings the right to have our way with the earth. 

Of course, it was written during an age when there were far fewer human beings, and when the non-human world was much more of a threat to human survival. To continue to base our interaction with our environment on one violent verb does not reflect our current numbers, knowledge, and technology. We now understand human power over the earth much better, and are much more capable of taking the long view—will unregulated exploitation of earth's resources truly benefit humanity in the long run? Now we know for sure that the answer is a resounding No.

Much more beneficial all along would have been the realization that we are not our own. We do not exist in and of ourselves, but we belong to God. Any power that God has given us should be used with humility, in acknowledgment that we are not the source of the power. Our understanding of many of the aspects of human power has been transformed over the past few millennia. It's time that all Christians came to acknowledge that a literal reading of this single verse from Genesis is not only archaic, but also dangerous.

All belong to you, and you belong to Christ.
 1 Corinthians 3:22-23
Prayer after thinking about today's devotion:
    God of all living,
    God of all loving, 
God of the seedling, the snow and the sun, 
    teach us, deflect us,
    Christ reconnect us, 
using us gently, and making us one.
 Shirley Erena Murray
After your own thanksgivings & petitions, close with the Lord's Prayer.

Let there be greening!
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