Ruling as the Image Bearers of God
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image; in the image of God, he created them; male and female, he created them. 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” (Genesis 1:26–28).
We were created in God’s image so that we might rule over creation just as He rules over us—with love, nurture, care, and compassion. As we consider our role as stewards of God’s creation, we must wrestle with this text that has been so desperately abused. Genesis 1:26 is written as one sentence for a very important purpose. There is an unbreakable link between God’s stated desire to make humankind in His image and His purpose in doing so—that we might rule. Our understanding of what it means to rule over creation is totally defined by the fact that we bear God’s image in everything we do. There are some in the evangelical world who treat this text as if there were no link whatsoever between these two parts of the same sentence. This has produced two extreme errors.
The first error is to equate “rule” with “own.” We have treated creation as if God said to the first couple, “I no longer own any of this; it’s all yours—rule over it and do with it whatever you wish.” And so we rule, not as bearers of the image of God, but as despots and tyrants, believing that creation is here simply for us to use for our own desires and good pleasure. Once we believe that we truly own this world, we make it subservient to our own pursuit of happiness. The ecological crisis we face around the globe bears witness to the fruit of this ownership mentality.
The second error is to rule over through neglect. That is, to believe the earth will always be here and nothing we do can change that. So, we live a self-centered life and ignore our responsibility to nurture and care for the creation. When we rule over it in a disinterested way, we lose the connection between bearing God’s image and His charge to us to rule over creation. The result is similar to that of the first error: a creation that is laid to waste because of our own self-interest and the abdication of our responsibility to be His caretakers.
To avoid both errors, we must always hold together these two parts of this important proclamation from the Creator; we bear God’s image as we rule over God’s creation. In everything we do as leaders in relationship with His created world, we are to be the hands, the heart, and the presence of the God who lovingly created it and who provides for it every day. It is our humble privilege to be coworkers with God in tending to this incredible planet. When we set aside our desire to own and reject the temptation to neglect, we take upon ourselves the mantle of the faithful steward and steward leader. We lead our organizations in serving as caretakers who rule over creation just like God rules over us: with love, compassion, tenderness, and sacrificial service. That is the only way we can truly bear God’s image in our role as rulers of creation.
Imagine that you have created a wonderful little vegetable garden. You have spent countless hours in the hot sun constructing raised beds, installing a watering system, selecting the right soil, and carefully planting row after row of seeds. Your hard work and patience paid off, and the garden is in full bloom. Every day you go out and pick the weeds, make sure the water is working well, and check the fence to make sure no rabbits or other animals can get in to eat your crop. And then you decide to go away for a week. You ask a dear friend to take care of the garden for you while you are gone. To make sure this friend understands exactly what needs to be done, you write a very careful list as a guide. Take a moment and write down for yourself what you think you would include on that list. Be specific: watering twice a day, weeding, checking the fence, looking for bugs, harvesting as needed, etc. Now take a look at that list and ask, as one who has been given the supreme privilege and vocation of representing God in caring for this world, what kind of list has God left you as a steward of creation? How well do you know what is on that list, and how faithful are you in carrying it out as you bear His image in this world?
Excerpted from Steward Leader Meditations, R. Scott Rodin, Kingdom Life Publishing 2016. Order the full 50 meditations at www.kingdomlifepublishing.com