At the Fall, our first parents lost more than just their original image of God.
“Not only man but the earth also had by sin come under the control of the wicked one, and was to be restored by the plan of Redemption. At his creation, Adam was placed in dominion over the earth. But by yielding to temptation, he was brought under the power of Satan, and the dominion which he held passed to his conqueror. Thus Satan became ‘the god of this world.’ He had usurped that dominion over the earth which had been originally given to Adam. But Christ, by His sacrifice paying the penalty of sin, would not only redeem man, but recover the dominion which he had forfeited. All that was lost by the first Adam will be restored by the second.”—Ellen G. White, in Signs of the Times, November 4, 1908.
No question, after the Fall, human beings lost very much, including the “dominion” that we originally had been given.
What was this lost dominion? Though the idea of “dominion” often has negative connotations today, it certainly didn’t back in Eden. What did it mean when humans were first given dominion over the earth? And what can the church do to help people regain some of what was lost after the tragic fall of our first parents in Eden?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, July 9.
Someone recently wrote the following about a friend, an avowed atheist who said that she sometimes “wakes in the middle of the night, stressing over a bunch of deep questions: ‘Is this world truly the result of an accidental cosmic big bang? How could there be no design, no grand purpose to our existence and to the universe as a whole? Can it be that every life—including my own, my husband’s, my two children’s—is totally irrelevant and meaningless? Does my life have no meaning and purpose?’ ”
After the Fall, humanity lost very much. As the story of the Fall showed, we became alienated not only from God but from each other. Even our relationship toward the earth itself changed. And as the questions asked by the woman above show, we also struggle with knowing who we are and what the purpose of our life is, problems that for many are made much worse by the prevailing idea that our existence resulted only from chance, with no foresight or purpose built in by a Creator God.
As we can see in the verses in Genesis, whatever other reasons God had for creating Adam and Eve, they were also created in order to have dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26–28). Together, reflecting God’s glory and character, the first couple were to be channels through whom He, the One with ultimate glory and dominion (Rev. 1:5, 6), would nurture, care for, and administer the rest of His earthly creation. Who knows how God’s glory would have been revealed through them and their dominion over the world were it not for the rise of sin?
Now, though, through faith in Jesus, through surrendering our lives to Him in faith and obedience and cooperation, we can say with David: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” (Ps. 138:8, ESV). Knowing that God has a purpose for each of us is a cause for confidence and rejoicing, especially when we are surrendered to Him so that His will can be fulfilled in us.
The biblical word dominion comes from the Hebrew verb radah. This word indicates a right and responsibility to rule. It implies, in this context, a hierarchy of power and authority in which the human race is positioned above the rest of the natural world. While the verb radah, as used in the rest of the Old Testament, does not itself define how this dominion is to be exercised, whether benevolently or malevolently, the context of a sinless and unfallen creation shows that the intent must have been benevolent in nature.
Similar conclusions may be drawn about subduing the earth in Genesis 1:28. The verb subdue, from the Hebrew kavash, also depicts a hierarchical relationship in which humans are positioned above the earth and are granted power and control over it. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the verb kavash is even more forceful than radah, describing the actual act of subjugation, of forcing another into a subordinate position (Num. 32:22, 29; Jer. 34:11, 16; Esther 7:8; Neh. 5:5). In many of these cases, the abuse of power is obvious and God’s displeasure expressed. But again, taking into consideration the context within the Creation story of a sinless couple created in the image of God to administer the earth, this subduing of the earth can be characterized only as benevolent service to creation on behalf of the Creator. It certainly was not exploitation.
We find an additional dimension to this concept of dominion in Genesis 2:15, where God places Adam in the garden to dress (abad—to work, to serve, to till) and to keep (shamar—to hedge about, guard, protect, attend to, look narrowly, observe, preserve, regard, reserve).
Keeping this in mind, we discover that dominion is caring and loving stewardship or management. Within their relationship with God, our first parents were to have all the resources and authority that they needed to execute their dominion, which would have reflected God’s divine love of His creation.
Does humanity’s dominion over “all the earth” (Gen. 1:26) indicate that there are no boundaries to our dominion? Biblical history indicates that dominion (which can also be understood as “stewardship”) must have boundaries.
For example, God told Adam that the tree of knowledge of good and evil was off-limits (see Gen. 2:15–17). The first sin was, then, in the context of stewardship. Adam and Eve overstepped the boundaries that God had set on their dominion. Creation is still suffering from that overstepping of boundaries (see Rom. 8:20–22).
Throughout human history (for example, Pharaoh in Exodus 1–14; Herod in Matthew 2) to the end of time (see Revelation 13), domineering people controlled by Satan are notorious for attempting to dominate that over which they have no rightful control. They imitate Satan, who seized power and made himself “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). Dominion gone awry becomes domination.
On the other hand, there are those who refuse to accept control of that over which they need to have dominion (see Matt. 25:14–30, Luke 19:12–27).
Even though sin caused humanity to lose the level of dominion given at Creation, our original dominion was not entirely lost because of sin. There is plenty that is within our current boundaries of responsibility: for example, Christ-enabled self-mastery in our personal lives (see 1 Cor. 9:25–27; Gal. 5:22, 23), and the care of the earth and its creatures and of all that has been given to us by God (see James 1:17, Matt. 25:14–30). We need, as Christians, to understand what our boundaries are and then work to be faithful stewards within those boundaries.
Before sin, Adam and Eve had been delegated stewardship over all that God had entrusted to them. They had mastery over plant and animal life. Yet, after sin, all of nature seemed to rebel against them to the same extent that they had rebelled against God. Human beings began to see themselves as powerless in the face of the elements (weather, agriculture, the animal kingdom).
“Among the lower creatures Adam had stood as king, and so long as he remained loyal to God, all nature acknowledged his rule; but when he transgressed, this dominion was forfeited. The spirit of rebellion, to which he himself had given entrance, extended throughout the animal creation. Thus not only the life of man, but the nature of the beasts, the trees of the forest, the grass of the field, the very air he breathed, all told the sad lesson of the knowledge of evil.”—Ellen G. White, Education, pp. 26, 27.
Today we are still ravaged by natural disasters and our deteriorating ecosystem, at least in some places. Thus, we make great efforts to use technology and industry to protect ourselves. However, though technology and industry may help us protect ourselves, sometimes the same technology can damage our planet. Ecology is a moral, ethical, and theological issue, especially when exploitation of the earth can lead to great hardship for others.
“Seventh-day Adventists advocate a simple, wholesome lifestyle, where people do not step on the treadmill of unbridled consumerism, goods-getting, and production of waste. We call for respect of creation, restraint in the use of the world’s resources, reevaluation of one’s needs, and reaffirmation of the dignity of created life.”—In “Official Statement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Environment,” 1995.
Through the Fall we as humans have lost very much, including the kind of dominion that our first parents were privileged to have in Eden. Christ came in order to restore to us what we lost.
And because of what Christ has done for us, we, too, have been called by God to reach out to others, helping them regain in Christ the salvation and dominion lost at the Fall that He has given back to us. Though this process will not be complete until the second coming of Jesus and beyond, there’s much that we can do now in reaching out to those who are needy, lost, and overwhelmed by the world. We can be used by God to help start that restoration even now, as we reach out and help those in need.
1 Pet. 3:15
2 Thess. 3:10
As a church body there’s much that we can do, that we must do, that we have been called to do, to reach out to those in need. Sometimes it’s as basic as providing food, clothes, or shelter to someone in urgent need. Even though giving relief is necessary, something beyond giving relief is needed to help people restore dominion in their lives.
Though we must always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, we must, when and where we can, meet their physical needs and point them to a better way of life.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Temper2ance and Dietetics, ”pp. 202–206; “Discipline,” pp. 287–290, in Education; “Need for Self-Mastery,” pp. 73, 74, in Counsels on Diet and Foods; “The Principles of Stewardship,” pp. 111–113; “Sharing in the Joys of the Redeemed,” pp. 348–350, in Counsels on Stewardship.
It’s so hard from our perspective today, immersed as we are in a greatly fallen world, to imagine what we have lost through the Fall. This evil world is all that we know, and were it not for the Word of God and how it reveals to us our origins and the origins of sin and death and evil, we’d simply take them for granted, as just part of life itself. Yet the story of the Fall shows us that, indeed, this is not how things were to be. Genesis said that Adam and Eve were to have dominion over the world; then, right after they sinned, suddenly their relationship to the world changed because they changed, and the physical world itself changed as well. Suddenly the dominion they had enjoyed was lost, and the consequences became enormous. “The thorn and the thistle (Gen. 3:17, 18), the aftermath of the Flood (Gen. 7:12), the desert and the wilderness, the groaning of the earth for deliverance (Rom. 8:19–22) are some of the word pictures the Bible uses to describe the effect of sin upon the world.”—Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald® Pub. Assn.), vol. 12, p. 254. How thankful we should be for the plan of salvation, which will restore all that was lost and which offers us the promise of a future so much better than the past or the present.