“Surely,” said Mark, “one requires a pretty large population for the
full exploitation of Nature, if for nothing else?”
—C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1946)
The decree of God’s electing and predestinating love,
though discriminating and particular, is, nevertheless, very extensive.
—Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (1932)
Why Are We Here?
The Dominion Mandate gave Adam and Eve an amazing goal: They and their children were to explore, develop, and enhance God’s beautiful, unfallen world. They were to construct a culture, build a civilization, build a holy City to the glory of God. They were to do this by faith through grace.
The task, starting in the garden, would require them to become scientists, artisans, mechanics, inventors, scholars, writers, musicians, and more. They would have to become proficient in agriculture, animal husbandry, the culinary arts, mining, metallurgy, shipbuilding, navigation, commerce, and storytelling. The mastery of these skills would require a deep understanding of physics, chemistry, geology, botany and psychology.
The mastery of these sciences in turn would require an ever-growing mastery of mathematics: arithmetic, algebra, statistics, trigonometry, analytical geometry, and yes even calculus. In short, godly dominion would necessarily produce an intricate and complex culture with roots in mathematics and the sciences and fruit in literature and the arts.
Many theologians, especially those in the tradition of Abraham Kuyper, have understood these things and written and worked in terms of them. In fact, the Dominion Mandate has traditionally been known in Reformed circles as the cultural mandate. Today, we might even call it the Worldview Mandate. So far, so good. But if the production or development of external culture is all we see in the mandate, we’ve missed something pretty big.
Have A Lot Of Kids?
It is certainly true that one of the reasons behind God’s threefold command to have children — “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28) — was the need for a large population to explore and develop the planet’s resources. But we mistake God seriously if we think that all He was interested in was an optimized work force or a culturally developed planet.
The command to have children appears in the first line of the Dominion Mandate, but it stands in a much deeper theological context: God has just created man as His own image and He made man as a “created” and finite reflection of Himself (Gen. 1:17). So in the Dominion Mandate, God is telling man to fill the world with His own image. God wants to look at the Earth and see His living reflection. More than that, God wants to love and be loved by a humanity that properly images His nature. That, of course, is exactly what Jesus does, and the Father delights in His Son.
The Image Of God
Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and “the express image of His Person” (Heb. 1:3). He exhaustively images and reveals the Father, because He Himself is eternal deity, the divine Logos and the eternally begotten Son of the Father.
Man, however, is a different story. All of humanity together is finite. No one human being can do justice to the image of God. God could reflect His image in billions and billions of human souls and never repeat Himself. And even if all of those souls were to stand on Earth together, they still would not be a fair reflection of who God is.
But I’m pretty sure God never intended that any man should stand alone, abstracted from the rest of humanity. So God ordained that mankind should be a community, a tribe, a family, a holy City, even as a “body.” As each person interacts with all those about him, those interactions combine to generate a larger and greater reflection of God in humanity, taken as a whole, than any image that could ever appear in one man or small community of men. This interchange and interplay of love and kindness, wisdom and skill, faith and vision, would of course be beyond anything we could understand or imagine.
Now consider this larger reflection, this God-centered humanity, growing and maturing in righteousness, knowledge, and dominion throughout all of time and into eternity. Wouldn’t such a ripened humanity be beautiful to God as a reflection of His image? Wouldn’t such a Spiritually maturing people be a more fitting “Bride” for the eternal God? And isn’t this, in fact, what God is really ordaining in all this?
This idea comes out clear in the New Testament when the apostles speak of the Church as “the bride of Christ” and “the Lamb’s wife” (Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 21:9). For the woman is the glory of the man (1 Cor. 7:11). Eve was Adam’s mirror image, “a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). After a similar fashion, the Church is the image and glory of Christ, a truly fit and suitable Bride for the divine Son of God.
The Love Of God
My guess is it’s a heresy to say that God created man because He needed someone to love or someone to love Him. The eternal love within the Trinity was and is absolutely self-sufficient and perfect, lacking nothing. And yet we must also confess that God freely chose to extend His love beyond Himself. He chose to love and fellowship with mortals like us. Being infinite in grace, He chose to love — not a few, not a mere hundred or thousand — but a great and innumerable multitude drawn from every nation, kindred, people, and tongue (Rev. 7:9). He chose to make them His servants, His friends, His sons and His daughters.
But He chose something more. God chose to bring these adopted children to maturity in their covenant relationship with Him and with one another. Even before the Fall, there was a difference between innocence and Spiritual maturity — maturity in the Holy Spirit. Even had Adam remained faithful, he would still have had more room to grow in his walk with God. We see this in the boy Jesus who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man (Luke 2:52).
Maturity Towards Glory
Growth toward Spiritual maturity requires at least three things. The first is the test that forces a choice between God’s will and self-will. In our history our covenant representatives faced this test for us. Adam faced the test in Paradise and failed. Jesus faced it, first in the wilderness and then in Gethsemane, and succeeded. “Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things that He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Jesus learned not only to obey God when it was easy; He also learned to obey God when it was horribly difficult—when obedience meant separation from God on the cross; when it meant the wrath of God for evil He had never done.
As Christians, we continue to face this test to one degree or another every time the requirements of faithfulness to God crosses our self-will and fleshly desires. This is why Jesus tells us we must take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Putting off the old man is a daily business.
Second, in order to mature, whether in a sinful world or in one that is unfallen, the child of God needs interaction with other people. To mature, we must learn how to cooperate with others who are skilled in areas unfamiliar to us; with people who are different from us; with people who see things a little differently. To mature, we must learn to appreciate, love, and help those who are weaker or less talented. To mature, we must learn to respect, listen to, and obey those who have greater wisdom, talent, or maturity.
Third, the child of God needs interaction with an undeveloped, unfinished world. Talent and wisdom only grow to excellence in the face of challenge. No artist is content to paint the same great picture over and over. No bands (not even the Rolling Stones) play only one big hit. The man who would master his craft and fully develop his gifts always looks for new challenges, new horizons, new adventures. Something written in his DNA makes him want to do hard things. Only as the task ahead requires imagination, stamina, strength, wisdom, and passion, does it challenge a man to new heights of maturity. And only such challenges really press home to the child of God his need to rely wholly on his heavenly Father.
So … To Be Like Jesus
In an unfallen world, where the issue of ultimate allegiance has already been settled, the process of Spiritual growth would most likely have been slow and subtle. Every act a man performed would be born out of faith in God. But there would be no monsters, no demons, no big crises of faith. The obstacles would be primarily of a physical or intellectual nature — a mountain to climb, an equation to solve, an invention to create. But success in such things would still be a matter of faith, of trusting God in new situations for new blessings.
In this world of sin, however, Christian maturity is always a battle. God’s adopted kids must press forward through “many trials, toils, and snares.” We daily face foes within and without. We can only persevere and succeed in this battle through faith in Jesus Christ. We are of course justified by faith, but we are also sanctified by faith. We trust God in Christ for the Spiritual power to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. We do our work, we live our lives, on the basis of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We do this, not as isolated individuals, but as the Body of Christ, as members of one another, joined, animated, and empowered by the same Spirit.
This sanctification is a life-long process for the believer. It is an age-long process for the Church. Paul speaks explicitly of this growth in Christ. He writes that God has given us those who teach His word to edify the saints . . .
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:13-16).
Paul presents us with an historical goal. The Church as a covenanted community needs to grow up. It needs to mature. It needs to ripen in order to harvest. And in some ways this is something that only happens in history—before the Resurrection. Particularly, in our fallen world faith must grow and mature in the face of sin, adversity, and suffering. The Christian’s faith must mature the same way Christ’s did. He “learned obedience by the things that He suffered.” So must we. So must the Church. Until God has completed this process in His people … He isn’t done with history.
The target of the Dominion Mandate is a developed, sanctified and glorified world. Even better, it aims at a Spiritually mature covenant people, who have developed their talents and gifts for the service of God and of one another. The Dominion Mandate aims at a kind of holy city, not bricks, mortar and pile of cultural accomplishments, but as the living Body of Christ that builds itself up in love. We’re not there yet. I’m profoundly reminded of this every time I look in the mirror.