Monday, June 20, 2011

Dominion, Trinity Sunday, and Father's Day

Yours are the heavens; the earth also is yours; you laid the foundations of the world and all that is in it. (Psalm 89:11)

(Monday) This morning’s Psalm with its reminder that all of creation -- the heavens, the earth, and the sea -- belong to God echoed the account of creation from the first chapter of Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2:4a) that we read as one of our Trinity Sunday lessons.

While yesterday was Trinity Sunday on the liturgical calendar, most Americans thought of it as Father’s Day. I don’t know how many times around Father’s Day this year I heard people say something to the effect that there’s a big difference between being a biological father and actually being a man who acts like a dad, who cares for and protects and teaches and loves a child, whether his own biological offspring or another child: “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.” That Father’s Day thought came to mind when I was listening to Verse 28, “the dominion passage”, in yesterday’s reading. This is the verse that says that after the creation of humankind, 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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Some people have taken the command to have dominion over other living things as permission to do whatever we want with the resources God has given us, to simply dominate other living things, while others look at having dominion as caring responsibly for other living things and the resources that support life. Those who support the latter interpretation look at this passage in the context of all of Scripture instead of in isolation. Passages such as today’s Psalm that remind us that creation ultimately belongs to God, not us, provide some of the context for the responsible care interpretation. The command in Genesis 2:15 to “till and keep” the garden also points to this latter interpretation. In his book For the Beauty of the Earth Steven Bouma-Prediger suggests that Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 taken together call us to be “earthkeepers”.

The distinction between dominion as domination and dominion as responsible care is parallel to the distinction between fatherhood as a purely biological matter and fatherhood as standing in a certain healthy relationship to a child. The fact of being a parent, of having authority over a child, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to treat that child any way we please. We expect good fathers and mothers to nurture their children, to protect them and teach them and certainly to love them. Having authority over God’s other creatures doesn’t mean that it’s okay to treat other living things and the resources that support their lives (and ours) any way we please. With that authority from God comes an expectation that we will care for creation, protect and tend and keep creation, and love God’s creation.

Anyone can be a member of the species homo sapiens, but it takes someone special to be an earthkeeper.

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