As a result of the fall, however, man’s urge to dominion is
now a perverted one . . . it is a desire to be God.
—Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973)
Did God Fail?
In the beginning, God gave man dominion over the lower creation. But man rebelled against God. He ate from the forbidden Tree in an arrogant bid for godhood. He brought sin and death into the world. He corrupted his own nature. Though he was still necessarily and inescapably the image of God, that image was now marred and distorted by sin. His knowledge of God degenerated into ignorance and lies. His righteousness turned into the ashes of self-righteousness and immorality. And his impulse to dominion was either blunted into sloth or bloated into a lust for power.
As Adam and Eve stood before God in all their rebellion and guilt, they had every reason to believe they would perish eternally. In fact, they had no right to expect anything from God but death and damnation. Neither did the Serpent, Satan, who stood there beside them. (The Serpent apparently had legs.) But at least Satan could, for a moment, relish a real victory. He had defeated God’s program for man’s dominion over His world. Whatever might happen next, Satan had outmaneuvered Yahweh, and he could gloat over that victory for all eternity.
It is a sad thing that many within the Church share Satan’s initial appraisal of that situation. Yes, they agree, Satan won that one. God abandoned his original program. Man had become incapable of proper dominion, and God implicitly acknowledged Satan’s victory by focusing His promises in a very different direction. God set aside His beautiful and complex world with all its vast potential and turned His attention to man’s soul and its potential destiny in another world. God gave up, at least eschatologically, on the material creation and set his people’s sights on something exclusively heavenly. (That’s the theory at least.)
But this is not at all what the Bible actually teaches. We need to look again at the text of Genesis 3 and see what really happened when God confronted Adam and Eve—and what it means for us today. God’s words have priority over our assumptions and traditions.
God spoke first of all to the Serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Enmity is conflict and warfare. God promised to rescue the woman from her alliance with Satan and bring her back to His team… the winning team.
This declaration handed Satan a whole series of interrelated setbacks and defeats. The woman was going to live! More than that, she would have seed. And that seed (or one specific Seed) would crush Satan’s head—destroy and overturn all his game plan. Satan, of course, did not know how this would or could happen. How could a God who claimed to be just and holy forgive and rescue guilty sinners? And what about the whole issue of man’s dominion?
As God proceeded to pronounce judgment against Eve and then Adam, it became clear that God’s original program for man’s dominion had suffered some alterations. There was, however, nothing in God’s words to suggest that the task He had set mankind had been in anywise revoked. What had changed was…the task had simply become a whole lot harder.
The Dominion Mandate All Over Again
Adam and Ever were still married. God didn’t abolish marriage or put something radically different in its place. There would be conflict within their marriage to be sure, but through God’s grace Adam and Eve were still supposed to make their marriage work. Eve would still bear children—she would be “the mother of all living”—but now she would do so in pain and sorrow. And many of her children would prove to be the seed of the Serpent and allies of Satan.
Adam lost the Garden, but he inherited the world. He would till the soil and earn his bread, but he would do so “by the sweat of his brow.” The work of dominion, of subduing the Earth, would have to move at a slower pace, and it would face innumerable complications and obstacles, starting with “thorns and thistles” and culminating in his own death. For the ground was now cursed, and it would not yield its fruits easily. But God did not revoke man’s role as steward of creation.
Furthermore, God set worship on a new ground: He shed the blood of animals to provide clothes for Adam and Eve. From then on, man could only rightly worship God through shed blood, blood that preached the coming of Jesus Christ. But God still expected man to worship, and there is nothing in the text to suggest that God altered the pattern of six days for work and one day for rest and worship. In fact, the Fourth Commandment from Sinai explicitly appeals to original creation ordinance for the continuance of the weekly Sabbath under the Mosaic covenant.
The promise of Messiah no more revoked man’s task of dominion than it did away with marriage and family or a weekly day of worship. God did not yield the victory to Satan. He didn’t abandon His original program for His creation, but He did commit Himself to a much grander program. Christ would overcome sin and death. He would redeem to Himself a reborn humanity. He would deliver the Earth from the bondage of corruption. He would gain for His people everything that Adam lost and much more. Even Better: This Christ would not only be a Second Adam, but the very Son of God.
For Further Reading
O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980).
David Bruce Hegeman, Plowing in Hope, Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1999).
Francis Nigel Lee, The Central Significance of Culture (N. p.: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1976).