Exploring the Good World
What is the exact nature of the responsibility that comes with being image bearers of God?
There are two passages In Genesis 1 & 2 where God basically says to humanity, “Here is my creation. It is very good. It is your home. So, let me know give your instructions as to how to live in it.”
It is clear that God’s intention is for humanity to flourish in the world he has given them and that we have a ruling function. Two words reveal the ruling function that we are to have:
The first word is kaw-bash, which means to subdue, to make subject (literally, to tread). This word implies that creation will not do our bidding gladly or easily…. We are to use our strength and ingenuity to make it produce what we need it to
The second word used is raw-daw, which means to rule or have dominion. This word, along with other two words used in Genesis 1 (image and likeness) are words only applied to royalty in Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures. We see through this that God’s intentions is for us to function as his regents—we are given authority to wisely rule over what is his. That is why God has given us a unique range of gifts & capacities to fulfill this responsibility.
Two words in Genesis 2:15, clarify what it looks like to subdue and have dominion
The first word is āvaḏ, which means to work, to till, or to husband. Think of a gardener, who thoughtfully plants, waters, and weeds their garden so that it produces all kinds of wonderful things. We are to use the resources of this world to bring something new to the world.
The second word, shaw-mar means to guard, to watch over, to protect, or to keep. We are to carefully manage and protect what has proved to be a sometimes fragile ecosystem. Our authority to rule and subdue also comes with the responsibility to wisely till and protect.
Adam’s first act of ruling, subduing, dressing, and keeping is to name all of God’s creation. Naming in our culture is important, but naming in ANE culture meant something else entirely. “A name may identify the essential nature of the creature, so that giving a name may be an act of assigning the function that creature will have” (NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible). Genesis 2 describes an act of study and discernment—Adam is doing taxonomy. Adam is postured as studying the animals to understand their nature. By naming them he is, according to the ANE understanding, he described their telos or destiny. So, the first act of Adam is to seek to understand the world in which he found himself in.
I find this idea fascinating… because of course, this is the work of a scientist. We live in an unbelievable world, begging to be “named” or discovered. Frankly, this is the work of science—scientists are people who give their whole careers to explore and understand some small part of our world.
Science can be politicized; science can be manipulated; and science can also be slow in getting things exactly right, as its self-correcting nature bears out over time. We are thus tempted to pit faith against science as if they are opponents. But the very rise of science came because people became convinced that God had ordered the world in a certain way, and it was our responsibility to try to understand how He had ordered it. Framed this way, we can see that science can be doxological. To study creation is to see the glory of God and praise him.