Up until now, we’ve talked about how neo pseudo gnosticism pertains to the life after death. But what about the life here-and-now? Has this pale echo of an ancient heresy effected the way we look at the world around us?
I think it has, more specifically, what it means to have dominion over the world.
In Genesis 1, after God has created humanity, He gives them some very specific marching orders:
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.
Boy, that’s quite the blank check, isn’t it? Here’s this vast creation, and basically, God says, “Go ahead and make yourself at home. Do what you want. You guys are in charge!”
Well, maybe not exactly, but that’s the way that far too many people have interpreted that gift of dominion to Adam and Eve. The world is ours to do with as we please. We can exploit creation however we see fit. It’s sort of like the apocryphal quote attributed to James Watt, that we don’t have to take care of the environment because Jesus is coming back soon. Now granted, there’s some doubt as to whether or not Watt actually said that, but there’s a reason why that story gained so much traction over the years. Christians have taken the idea of dominion and ran with it.
And really, why shouldn’t we? If neo pseudo gnosticism is correct, then this world really doesn’t matter. It’s inconsequential, so why shouldn’t we do whatever we want to it? So go ahead and exploit it however you want.
Except I don’t think that conclusion is the right one to draw, and it has to do with what kind of dominion God calls us to.
One of the principles I adhere to when it comes to interpreting Scripture is that Scripture interprets itself, and the more clear passages are used to shed light on the less clear. So what does it mean to have dominion? Well, the best way to figure that out is to see how Jesus exercised dominion. And to figure that out, we should look at John 13.
In John 13, Jesus does something shocking. As His disciples gather to share a meal together, Jesus comes out and washes their feet. Those of us who are familiar with this story might not see this as all that radical, but it would have been positively scandalous to his disciples (think of how Peter reacts!). The reason is because back then, washing feet was a job reserved for the lowliest of servants. It’s not something the host of a party would ever do.
And yet, not only does Jesus do this, He also tells His disciples to follow His example. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus puts it bluntly:
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
This is the definition of Christian dominion, not to be served but to serve. To be a foot-washer. To care for those around us as servants. And I think that helps inform how we should live in the world that God has created.
Now that doesn’t mean that we revere the world as some sort of nature-goddess. Instead, it’s a matter of using God’s creation responsibly. The way I usually talk about it is to liken it to house-sitting. If I’m house-sitting for someone, I’m allowed to eat the food that’s in the fridge. I can enjoy the cable TV or wifi. I can’t knock out a load-bearing wall to remodel the house the way I think it should be. Unless the owner asks me to, I can’t decide that the rose bushes are hideous and need to be torn out. I can enjoy the house, but there are limits to what I’m allowed to do.
The same thing is true when it comes to God’s creation. We’re called to exercise Christ-like dominion over the world that God has created, which means that we can enjoy it, we can lie off of it, but it’s not ours to ruin. Because creation, and the people and things in it truly matter.
But more on the idea of people mattering next week.