In Gen. 1:26 and 28, we read that our first parents were made by God to “have dominion” over everything in creation and to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Verse twenty-six relates this function simply to our being made in God’s image: we image God in the way we are the undisputed rulers over all of creation. In verse twenty-eight, this role comes out of a blessing: “God blessed them and said to them…” A person is, just by showing up, a creation-ruler, and they are sent out to do this work with God’s blessing.
The way humans carry out this work is through the altering of creation. The English word “culture” has agricultural roots related to cultivating, tilling, and caring for land. Human culture alters the landscape of the world, in every way. Through culture, that is, the works of art and science, humans exercise their dominion. They then have babies that grow up to carry on this work of culture-making and creation-shaping, and on it goes.
Admittedly, humans as a whole don’t have a good track record with culture-making. Every culture we’ve made so far bears the sin we brought to it. Most of us can’t handle our smartphones in a responsible manner, and yet we’re in charge of the planet and its lifeforms?
It’d be nice at this point to have the option of opting out. Take a pass on the whole creation mandate-thing. But the gardener who stops weeding is making a horticultural decision; he’s exercising dominion in his own lazy way.
Bruce Waltke observes, “The issue is not whether human beings will develop culture; the only issue is what kind? Will it be godly or ungodly? Will it be motivated by agape (God’s love) or eros (self-love)?” Imaging God is simply inescapable for those made in his image.
So at work, at home or at school, we are always gardening and tilling and shaping the world. And whether we do it well or poorly, we will do it nonetheless.