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”

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.

LinneaPic1

 

“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.

 

LinneaPic2

 

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?

LinneaPic3

 

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/.

 

Prayer from Nature: A Faith that Moves Halfdome

HalfdomeClouds_MattBye

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.

Prayer from Nature: The Radiance of a Star

YosemiteStars_MattBye

Photograph: “The Milky Way over Washington’s Column” by Matt Bye

From here in front of Yosemite Chapel, I rest carefully upon the meadow’s boardwalk, gazing upwards through the chilled, night sky. The wood beneath my limbs mirrors the cold air above in temperature. Thousands, no millions of miles forth glows the subtle light of perhaps thousands, no millions of stars. And on my lumber seat, their white embers’ warmth does not reside. The crisp coolness of the air hence brings me to long for the ardor existing abreast these foreign candles. If I were drawn nigh, would my hairs lay flat again under their radiant, warming passion? The sun gives birth to the truth of this simple pleasure.

How I hope to be like these stars in that the closer one peers at my character, the more they find a radiant love exerted from my soul. So I pray, let me too become a candle releasing such undeniable warmth.

Founder of The Network 5.12

Andrew Bellisle

From September 22nd to September 26th, Andrew is releasing a prayer each day.  These prayers are inspired by a particular focus on entities of creation.  We would love for you to subscribe to our blog to receive these as daily devotionals! 

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.

Prayer from Nature: The Wisdom of a Tree

Foliage_KernDucote

Photograph: “Paper Beats Rock” by Kern Ducote

Not even a photograph captures the precise detail within trees, for even their shadows prove intimidating silhouettes to an artist. I’m always awed by the intricacies of these landmarks. From the dew which rests upon their greenery, to the veins within each leaf, to the delicate patterns of bark spread between their trunks and limbs, to the roots that carve their way in and out of the soil beneath their slumber, their complexity is a wonder to rest beneath, for here I am reminded of the individual character bestowed into everything living.

And the sources of life for these trees, light trickling down through their canopies and water ascending from their roots to the proudest of leaves, collide. I imagine this collision to be a magical meeting of sorts, illuminating the souls of the giants. Perhaps if one were to witness the spectacle, they would gain sight of the deepest of wisdoms, hidden within the heart of a tree, now lit by the glorious explosion from the union of the two. What I would do to glimpse upon that wisdom, obtained from living centuries past. There are even trees that watched Jesus walk…

I pray for the wisdom of a tree. And since I too am delicately made, perhaps it is mine to gain.

Founder of The Network 5.12

Andrew Bellisle

From September 22nd to September 26th, Andrew is releasing a prayer each day.  These prayers are inspired by a particular focus on entities of creation.  We would love for you to subscribe to our blog to receive these as daily devotionals! 

Note on today’s photograph: Kern Ducote is a wonderful friend of The Network 5.12.  To check out more of his work, visit http://kernducote.tumblr.com.

Prayer from Nature: Wind’s Energetic Song

YosetmitePines_MattBye

Photograph: “The Rivers of Mercy” by Matt Bye

The full weight of the wind, released through the languished sigh of where e’re the chambers of captured wind reside within the sky, now heavily breathed forth, is freed into our world. Its force has fallen on the tips of Yosemite pines. Not even their resolute pose holds rest to the determined force of these gusts, bringing their energetic song – a song now coaxing the highest stretched, masculine limbs into a graceful, feminine sway and dance. This is how the wind perhaps best exerts her power: the seduction of the towering greens, converting their shaded canopy into a rustling ocean wave.

I gawk at her might, and I ponder her decision to so perfectly invade the sea o’re my head. How does she always seem to give birth to such life?

I pray, breathe into me oh sighing gales. Please bring my limbs to dance to your song, for I want to live under your seduction, energized as these pines.

Founder of The Network 5.12

Andrew Bellisle

From September 22nd to September 26th, Andrew is releasing a prayer each day.  These prayers are inspired by a particular focus on entities of creation.  We would love for you to subscribe to our blog to receive these as daily devotionals! 

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.

Prayer from Nature: The Purpose of a Flower

Mt.GalbraithFlowers

Rarely, as a twenty-four-year-old man do I stop to admire flowers. Yet here and now, their determined tackle demands my attention. The ones below me carry an untarnished, solid yellow, creating sharp contrast between the contour of each pedal and the shadows of grey and brown at their base. Why do our eyes hold partial to ambient shades over the dull colors of dirt? I cannot explain. Nevertheless, the draw of a flower can be felt as the aesthetics of their flamboyant bloom reach beyond logic and into our core desire for that which is elegant.

Now to wander deeper into thought about flowers, I ponder their very existence. Their birth through pollination seems the oddest thing, full of chance, especially in this rugged terrain. A lack of water and fertile soil stand against these flowers’ being, yet here they are breathing in the sun, storing moisture from the night, and sprouting roots against the odds. And yet few would admire their pedals saying, “These flowers bare such burdens.” No. For flowers carry a confident peace, holding their provisions near and bursting forth in glory.

I pray to be like these flowers, perfectly content in that which I am given, using both provisions and obstacles to step into that for which I am made, the glory of my maker.

Founder of The Network 5.12

Andrew Bellisle

From September 22nd to September 26th, Andrew is releasing a prayer each day.  These prayers are inspired by a particular focus on entities of creation.  We would love for you to subscribe to our blog to receive these as daily devotionals!