The Real Meaning of “Subdue the Earth”

Castlewood Canyon State Park

Sitting beneath the weird conglomerate boulders of the Fountainbleau Area in Castewood Canyon, Colorado, I sunk my teeth into one of the hardest apples to ever cross my path. Undeterred, I pressed on, chiseling away until my teeth hit seed. Then, left with the core, I realized I had no bag to pack it out.

Looking at my fellow climbers, I asked, “Does anyone have a bag for trash?”

Such a simple question. But what followed was quite unexpected. One of the other climbers began to crack jokes. “Oh no, are you one of those over-the-top leave-no-trace kind of guys?” “Just toss it in the woods hippy.” “Give me a break. You care too much.” For five minutes, he continued to let me know how he disapproved of my LNT principles.

Until then, I’ve never been so chastised for caring too much about the earth. And while I succeeded in my mission of bringing the apple core home, this experience got me thinking once again about our role as environmentalists.

Now, many of you may be thinking: “Andrew, it WAS only an apple core. Doesn’t that decompose?”

And while yes, you are right. It does. That apple core would take months to go away, and it could have multiple negative effects on wildlife during that process (learn more HERE).

In the rest of this post, I argue that every decision we make matters for the earth. This argument is specifically addressed to the Christian culture, for I deeply fear that we neglect the earth and even sometimes misuse scripture to justify destructive behavior.

But I challenge anyone to read the following. Perhaps you will be introduced to a different Christian perspective than you have seen regarding the environment.

In my post “The Church as an Environmentalist – Are We?”, I suggested that Genesis 1:28 is the most misinterpreted passage in the Bible. Its charge to “fill the earth and subdue it” is too often interpreted as “we can do whatever we want to planet earth.”

Well, I would like to take a further look at what it means to “subdue” or “rule” the earth.

Here is the passage in full and 4 things to keep in mind:

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And 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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

(1) ALL SCRIPTURE SHOULD BE READ THROUGH THE LENS THAT GOD WANTS TO GIVE ABUNDANT LIFE.

This theme is represented throughout the Bible, from the very act of God creating the universe to God’s ultimate restoration of it. Humanity is left to decide whether we will align with this motive or work against it. I would even argue that every action we take joins God’s will for abundance or willfully works against the life that He is breathing.

(2) GOD’S FIRST COMMAND, TO “BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY”, WAS GIVEN TO OTHER CREATURES FIRST.

In Genesis 1:22, we read God command the fish, birds, and other creatures to “be fruitful and multiply.” God also gives the plants of the earth to other creatures for sustenance, just as He gave to humanity (Gen. 1:30). God’s desire seems to be to provide for all of creation, not simply for humanity. I am not arguing that other creatures take greater significance. But these verses, at the very least, indicate that we share our privilege to flourish with the rest of creation.

(3) THE WORDS “SUBDUE” AND “RULE” SHOULD BE READ IN LIGHT OF HOW WE WERE CREATED: “IN GOD’S IMAGE.”

It is no accident that God’s first unique command to humanity, to “fill the earth and subdue it”, is issued just after the reminder that we are made in God’s image. Should this not tell us about HOW we are to fulfill the command? The intent is for us to “rule” as God would rule. While I can’t unpack every passage that displays such rulership, perhaps one of the most prominent is Psalm 72:12-14. This passage speaks of God being devoted to the welfare of those God rules. In light of being “in God’s image”, we too should strive to exemplify this benevolence–not purely for human life, but for ALL that God has made and charged us to rule over.

(4) FOURTH, FINALLY, AND PERHAPS MOST OBVIOUS: ALL THAT GOD MADE WAS/IS GOOD.

Sure, I’ve heard it argued that the fall negates this. Some would say that because the earth is no longer as it was intended (“very good” or perfectly in line with God’s will), we shouldn’t worry about the environment. Not only does this seem foolish for our own ability to flourish on the planet, but this seems to neglect the final intent of God, to restore and redeem all things. We can either join in the restoration or ignorantly act against this desire. God declared all that was made to be “good,” and I full-heartedly believe it is part of our rule that we actively maintain the pieces that still are “good”. Perhaps, we are even to help in the restoration!

I hope that these thoughts have helped readers to find new understanding in Genesis 1. If I had to summarize my arguments, I would simply say this:

God has created us in His own image, to mirror His own benevolent rule and help in maintaining the goodness of creation. We can either align with God’s will for life to abundantly flourish or we can work against it. Everything we do does one or the other. Which path will the church choose?

With eyes wide open,

Andrew Bellisle
Owner/Lead Guide
Network 5.12, LLC

Thanks for reading folks! If you would like to keep up with the rest of this series, please JOIN our Network and stay updated with future posts. Other articles that have been/will be included in this series are:

The Church as an Environmentalist – Are We?

“A Theology of Abundant Life”

“Ways to be an Environmentalist”

“The Church as an Environmentalist” – Are we?

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Photo by Christina Warburg. See more of her landscapes at: christinaadelephotography.com

Are you ready for one of the most poorly interpreted passages in scripture? Following the creation story in Genesis, God spoke to Adam and Eve saying:

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”               – Genesis 1:28 (NIV)

So humans must be justified in absolutely anything we do to nature, right? We’re in charge.

Countless times, I’ve heard Christians interpret Genesis 1:28 in this way. Then, those same Christians spit that garbage-filled (pun intended) interpretation in environmentalists’ face.

For many Christians, this verse is the proof we need to eat lots and lots of bacon.

And clearly, from this passage we should know it is ok for commercial mega-farms to destructively plant the same crops in the same land for years on end…well, at least until that land can’t produce vegetation at all anymore. Depleting the earth of its nutrients is cool, because we get to subdue it!

“Sure,” some Christians say. “We know this forest is beautiful. But clear-cutting these trees will provide well needed jobs for our city. And the money made from selling the lumber will help repair our pot-hole-covered roads. And besides, we have dominion over the earth. So what if we cut down a few trees. God gave us this land.”

Such an argument is likely to be followed by the words, “Freeeeedoom!” or “Murika!”

I recently heard a radio pastor jerk a passage in Psalms out of context to prove global warming doesn’t exist. Apparently because God set the sun in motion to rise and set everyday, humans, no matter what we do to the earth, can not produce that so-called global warming stuff.

SERIOUSLY?!?!

Shame on you pastor. What about that whole piece in scripture regarding the “fall of humanity.” Are you saying that doesn’t apply to our treatment of creation? You want us to believe that we can reap destruction on each other, but that we can’t harm the earth?

Christians, those of us who make such arguments should be ashamed. If our destruction of God’s “good” earth isn’t classified as a sin, what is? We must start taking our call to be advocates of abundant life more seriously.

I realize more and more that most Christians lack a theological understanding of our role in caring for God’s creation. Many of us are down to recycle, but the buck stops there.

And hey, I can be totally guilty.

Confession: I have a deep love for Chic-fil-a. Almost everything about it puts a smile on my face. The peanut oil-fried chicken. The crispy bun. The perfect texture of the waffle fries. THE SWEET TEA! I love their food. I love their service.

But there is one thing that kills me about Chic-fil-a…their styrofoam cups. Come on Chic-fil-a! We live in the 21st century! I know on your website, you have cute little explanations of why you still use them. Because it’s good for your customers. The cups don’t sweat. Yada yada yada. But styrofoam? Seriously? Those cups will still be here in a thousand years.

This is where I am guilty. I eat Chic-fil-a once a month or so. Usually, I get it to go. And what do I have to do with that styrofoam cup? I throw it away because no where else recycles styrofoam. AHHHH!!! There it is. I’ve confessed!

I, too, need to learn how to make little sacrifices in every day life to help protect God’s creation. I could quit eating at Chic-fil-a.  I could take shorter showers. I could eat less beef. I could get more politically involved. THESE LITTLE THINGS ADD UP.

If you’re anything like me, you might wonder what impact small, personal life changes can make on the environment.  But there are many things each of us could do to improve our creation care efforts as the global church. If we did that collectively, it could have a major impact.

So it seems we need to get our theology right.

Over the coming weeks, I will be writing a blog series entitled, “The Church as an Environmentalist.” These posts will attempt to provide theological support for why Christians are to be active in protecting God’s creation. They will also envision the positive effects the church could have by doing so. And who knows, maybe I’ll address a few specific issues, like commercially-driven mega-farms or energy conservation along the way.

The unfortunate point is, Christians are rarely at the forefront protecting the wilderness God created. Many of us often leave creation care to those who do not believe in God at all. But maybe if we had a better understanding of environmentalism as part of God’s call on our lives, we would do more.

Subscribe to this blog and join me through this series. Let’s envision “The Church as an Environmentalist.”

With eyes wide open,

Andrew Bellisle
Owner/Lead Guide
Network 5.12, LLC

Thanks for reading folks! If you would like to keep up with the rest of this series, please JOIN our Network and stay updated with future posts. Other articles that have been/will be included in this series are:

The Real Meaning of ‘Subdue the Earth’

“A Theology of Abundant Life”

“The Impact the Global Church Could Have”

“Ways to be an Environmentalist”

Zion’s “Narrows” – Stepping Confidently

“Become familiar with the warning signs for flooding.  People have drowned inside the narrows from unexpected storms.”

Gulp.

One of Zion’s rangers sent us a shock as she described the danger of through-hiking the Narrows.

“But don’t worry,” she said. “Step with confidence and you’ll be fine. The biggest trouble people have is tripping on rocks while in the river. Even when you can’t see the bottom, you need to step hard. You got this.”

Comforting…

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Approaching the mouth of “The Narrows,” one will witness the red sandstone cliffs standing resolute over the river’s neighboring greenery.

The next day, my bride and I went on the greatest adventure of our honeymoon. About sixty percent of our sixteen-mile hike was spent in the Virgin River. The surrounding sandstone walls seemed ablaze as they towered over our trail, made of flowing water.

And all the while, we learned the meaning of the ranger’s advice to step with confidence. When waist deep, we often could not see the rocks below our feet.

Stepping timidly, pawing for security in our landing, often ended poorly. This shy approach proved frictionless upon contact with the rocky river bed.

But when we lifted our feet high through the water, believing our soles would land firm into what we could not see, we moved quickly. Stepping with confidence became the victorious approach.

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In places inside “The Narrows,” light barely grazes the surface of the water.

In life, we too cannot always see where our feet will land next or what adventure lies ahead. When faced with such uncertainty, sometimes the best approach for our feet is to plunge them forward, stepping faithfully into the secure landing prepared for them. And like Laura and I experienced on our hike, choosing to step confidently is completely worth the journey.

For those of us who believe in God, this idea is part of the promise we receive.  When faced with the unknown, whether into blessings or hardship, we must step confidently and faithfully.  We can do this because we believe that our good God has prepared each step of our way, sustaining and encouraging us along the adventure.

With eyes wide open,

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

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The Virgin River flows steadily through the maze of red sandstone cliffs, standing 2,000 feet above the canyon floor.

Rock Climbing and Managing Risk

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Logan Erf on “Anthill Direct” in Eldorado Canyon

For months, I awaited my friend Matt Dodson moving to Denver. He arrived last Sunday. And having climbed together while students at Belmont University, it was only fitting to strike rock together as soon as possible. Tuesday was the day.

Ripping its way through our rolled-down windows, the wind fueled our energy as we drove to Eldorado Canyon. Our goal of climbing “Yellow Spur” seemed to blur out the radio. There was nothing else. Sunny skies welcomed the upcoming climb. The moment was filled with ecstasy.

But as we pulled into the state park, we began to see them. Grey clouds were easing their way into view behind our destined summit.

Quoted a 5% chance of thunderstorms by the park entrance ranger, we still decided to approach the climb. As we toiled forth a mile, the 700 foot elevation gain seemed to bring us closer to a darkened sky. Onward, we hiked every inch of it.

And as we found the first pitch of the climb, flaked our ropes, prepped our gear, and I tossed on my climbing shoes, I became more psyched for the lead. Then, as I placed my first foot onto the rock, we heard it—a booming echo through Eldo’s walls. Thunder struck.

At this point, we were left with a choice. With the clouds appearing to move away, it seemed unlikely for the storm to blow directly through the canyon, but there was still the chance of danger upon the sandstone above.

I think in my past, I may have chanced it.

But, life has a way of changing. This is no secret. Circumstances ebb and flow and our outlooks on the world change with them. I will soon partner with the most beautiful woman in my life; our wedding date is July 18th. It will be the happiest day of my life thus far. I also increasingly yearn to inspire an adventurist culture towards a spiritual understanding of creation. I have many reasons to live. Tuesday was not to take my life for granted. The chance of lightning strike, however slim, was not worth the climb.

Matt and I gathered up our belongings and headed home.

A famous climber and base jumper, Dean Potter, and his friend Graham Hunt recently died while wing suiting in Yosemite National Park. I had the pleasure of meeting Dean a couple of times, and I know some of my friends in the park are suffering the loss of these two individuals.

I have watched over the past couple weeks as climbers nation-wide have responded to their death. Some have stressed the “decision-making” that led to it. On the other extreme, many have commended them for “going out doing what they loved to do.” I hope that both extremes can agree upon one thing. These men were cherished. They lived in this world just like we do, and they had further aspirations for their life that will never be accomplished. This should be tragic to us.

Yet so many responses to their death tried to hit on something beautiful about their final act. Can risk really be beautiful?

Dean and Graham risked it all. Was there beauty in that?

Is there anything for which I would risk everything, including life itself?

For climbing I would not. The people and aspirations for which I live outweigh death on a rock. Sure, climbers constantly face the challenge of risk assessment. Some may even consider the risk of death worth a climb. I myself climb routes that I believe have no serious risk of death. The point is we choose the level of risk we engage when we choose which route to climb.

Eldorado_Canyon_Anthill_Direct_Summit

Andrew Bellisle cleaning the summit of “Anthill Direct” on a different day in Eldorado Canyon

I think life often works the same. There are daily risks of failure, looking the fool, pain, embarrassment, health issues, injury, hurting others, and getting hurt. Like an impending storm, so many of these things are out of our control. We can only control our reactions once they have happened.

But often, we do control our risks by placing ourselves on a certain path. Depending upon which path we choose, certain risks will arise. And we each beautifully decide some of these risks are fully worth taking!

For instance, I know in marrying Laura, I will embrace certain risks: hurting her, being hurt, failing to put her best interests at heart, watching as she goes through sickness and health, seeing her cry, letting her down. But ultimately, these risks are minimal compared to the incredible gain of spending my life with the most beautiful woman I know. She has my heart. She’s worth the risks. And I hope to be for her.

So what risks are we willing to take? Which are worth it? Some are. Some aren’t. It may not be as simple as the cliché, “The greater the risk, the greater the reward.” Perhaps the phrase should be, “The greater the risk, the more sure we should be it’s worth risking.” Then, it can be beautiful.

Let us be selective and wise about the routes we choose. Let us be selective and wise about the risks we take. This is our responsibility. Risks—that are truly worth it—can and should be beautifully taken. Find what those are for you. Embrace them. And go risk it.

Eyes wide open,

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

Wind-Whipped and Soul-Struck

On a cool November morning almost exactly one year ago, my husband and I woke up to the sounds of rustling sleeping bags as a few of our fellow hut-dwellers slithered out of their bunks, grabbed their cameras, and headed out to catch the dawn. We had hiked nearly straight up the aptly named “Billy Goat Track” in pouring rain the afternoon before, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation in less than four miles. We’d managed to dry most of our things in the backcountry hut beneath the summit, but needless to say, leaving our mummy bags to venture out into the pre-dawn chill sounded less than appealing.

Given the previous day’s weather, our hopes of watching the sunrise seemed slim at best, but I crawled over to the window to check the sky anyway. At first glance, the uninterrupted hazy grayness suggested heavy cloud cover, and I almost rolled back into bed. But then, in the upper corner of the window, I glimpsed a morning star, shining out from the haze just above the horizon, beckoning us out into the cold. And we had no choice but to follow.

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“I can see a star,” I whispered to Alec. “It’s clear. We need to hurry.” He knew I was right, and we both rushed to pull on our coats, boots, and headlamps. The last stage of the trek to the summit was a sheer climb straight up the Pinnacles themselves, a towering rocky crag jutting up from the mountain with views stretching all the way across New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula. If we wanted to beat the coming dawn, we’d have to make the 40-minute climb in 25.

So we ran till the altitude took our breath away, then walked, then ran again until we reached the base of the Pinnacles, where we started to climb. As I shimmied up the metal ladders fixed to the rock, I felt distinctly thankful this ascent wasn’t in the rain. We reached the summit faster than we’d expected––those estimated hiking times are pretty generous, aren’t they––and as we scrambled to the top of the crag, I thought I’d climbed straight into heaven.

 

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The sun was just peeking over the Hauraki Gulf, and as we watched, the black mountains faded into a rich green and the grayish clouds turned a brilliant rosy pink. We stood and marveled with the half-dozen other brave souls who had wisely given themselves a bit more time to reach the top. No one spoke. Not a word. We stood in silent communion, wind-whipped and soul-struck. A moment earlier, I’d been scrambling in the darkness for hand- and footholds with a vague hope of reaching the sun. Now here it was, in all its glory, blinding and brilliant and painting the world with living color.

Standing there, light on my face, hope in my heart, my thoughts turned to another risen Son I almost didn’t chase after, and I thanked Him for showing me this one. Who are we, I thought, stuck in the hazy pre-dawn of reality, to say the sky is clouded over? How can we let ourselves ignore the morning star that so clearly tells of the coming dawn? When we start out after it, do we run until we lose our breath, then walk, then run some more? And when the path turns into a sheer upward climb, do we keep scrambling, hand over hand, holding on to that faint hope of the glory that awaits our arrival?

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Guest Writer: Linnea Peckham Geno

In The Network 5.12, many of us have experienced nature in a way that has sparred on our spiritual growth.  Hence, guest-writing is welcomed on our site.  Linnea’s journey  is a beautiful example of how your simple stories can encourage our network.  Please feel free to submit your own via http://thenetwork512.com/contact/.

 

Is God in Noodles?…Seeing Beauty Everywhere

Sitting on top of El Capitan.

Manning a cash register.

Climbing in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado.

Serving noodles at Olive Garden.

As you read the list of experiences above, you likely place them into categories.  Makes sense right?

Climbing vs. Working.

Outdoor Fun vs. Indoor Misery.

Or if you’re like me, you may produce the following:

Spiritual Renewal vs. Time-sucking, Life-draining, Soul-Stealing Monotony.

I now work at an Olive Garden where the wretchedness of the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl exists. Tell me that serving 4 bowls of soup, 3 baskets of breadsticks, and 8 bowls of Fettuccini refills to a table that snaps fingers, yells across the restaurant, and leaves a 5% tip can’t steal your soul.

But to teach myself a lesson, I’ve decided to break down these carelessly constructed categories: (1) Climbing vs. Work, (2) Fun vs. Misery, and (3) Spiritual vs. Not.  I’m going to look at their common ground?

Two summers ago, when working in Yosemite National Park, I would climb towering walls of granite and in the same day step into work as a cashier at the Yosemite Village Store. The moment I finished a climb and entered the doors of my job, my attitude morphed from pure, spiritual enlightenment into a defensive brace against the upcoming 8 hours of torture.

But about halfway through the summer, a fellow coworker and I began discussing what makes a moment “spiritual.” We discovered something frightening:

Our own poor attitudes were ruining moments intended to reveal God’s beauty.   We realized the potential for spiritual awakening behind our registers through conversing with real-life, beautiful people. And in the same way the crystal clear waters of the Merced River revived our skinny-dipping souls, serving noodles in my current job at Olive Garden can kindle my spirit.

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Photo by Matt Bye (http://matt-bye.smugmug.com)

There is the potential for beauty in every moment, but if our eyes are closed, we’re guaranteed to miss it.

So what do the four experiences (El Cap, a register, Eldorado Canyon, and noodles) all have in common?

They provide opportunities for God’s beauty to shake something in us. Embracing them as His offering provides a state of remarkable peace and equilibrium.

I often fail to live out this faith in practice, quickly becoming frustrated at guests, coworkers, and the tedium of noodles. But ultimately, I am responsible for intentionally focusing on how God reveals Himself and His beauty in every circumstance.

The potential is there. Embrace each moment.

With eyes wide open,

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

Prayer from Nature: A Faith that Moves Halfdome

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Photograph: “North Dome, Half Dome, Clouds” by Matt Bye

I am now reminded of a strange sensation. It is peculiar, when sitting in a parked car, for the adjacent vehicle to reverse. Often, the resulting optical illusion is that your own car is rolling forward, followed by a desperate, brief desire to nail the brakes.

The wilderness created this deception today. A flat portrait of clouds, steadily and gracefully shifting north served as the adjacent automobile, and Halfdome felt as my own. The way the sky slithered to my left gave me, even if for an instant, the wonderful feeling that this granite wonder was moving southwards rather than its grey and blue backdrop inching wayward. So my brief, devout belief that such an absurdity was possible moved for just the moment, a monolith. It is true what they say. Faith can move mountains. All we need is a moment of belief and anything is possible.

I pray for overwhelming moments of this faith, powerful enough to move mountains. Let them carry over into a freedom of confidence to go and powerfully impact the world around me.

Founder of The Network 5.12

Andrew Bellisle

This is the last of a 5 day series.  From September 22nd to September 26th, Andrew released a prayer each day.  These prayers were inspired by a focus on entities of creation.  We would love for you to subscribe to our blog to check out more posts in the future! 

Note on today’s photograph: Matt Bye is a friend of The Network 5.12.  To check out more of his work, visit http://matt-bye.smugmug.com.  To learn even more of Matt’s philosophy on capturing photos, read “Sorry Photographers, You’re not Original,” a post he wrote specifically for The Network 5.12.