Human beings have long assumed themselves to be created as the superior species with a God-given right to dominate the rest of the animals.
Yet how, should humanity choose to take its Biblical and rightful place as the servant species, could this benefit all of God’s creatures?
“Mummy, Daddy, am I special?” The anxious, child-lie need for affirmation. It’s a question countless children have asked their parents for thousands of years.
It’s a question human beings never tire of asking; whatever their age.
It’s question that, since the dawn of time, humans have pondered about their species.
As Christians, bearing the Image of God and being called to exercise dominion have long been seen as pivotal theologically qualities of that which is uniquely human.
Yet there has been much speculation through the ages as to what exactly these terms may in fact mean. Theologians have never come to a consensus as to an exact definition of the Image of God, although most interpretations have focused on finding a naturalistic cause.
- Perhaps our power of reason?
- Faculty of language?
- Social interactions?
- Moral agency?
- Spiritual lives?
Another key factor in determining the specialness of humanity is the notion of dominion.
Although is a Biblical concept, the commonly held perception of dominion comes from the Aristotelian belief of there being a hierarchy within nature, with mankind ordained in a position of power over and above all other animals.
So what has become of these Biblical concepts?
Yet are we treating the Image of God as an exercise in human “uniqueness spotting”?
A game of empirical observation?
A game decidedly rigged in our favour?
Has Dominion become a badge of honour?
A theological crown to coronate humanity up and above all other creatures?
Biblical Dominion and Image of God
The Image of God is referred to fairly rarely in the Hebrew Bible. In the New Testament, the Image of God is used more frequently however the term gravitates not around humans, but Christ who is proclaimed as “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15, John 1:18, 14:8-9)
How might Christ, the true and perfect Image of God, call us to rethink our notions of Dominion and the Image of God? What might we learn through His model of exercising Lordship?
We read in the Gospel of how Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He was no hired hand who cared nothing for the flock but rather was the self-sacrificing servant.
The defender of His charge.
No passive bystander.
In Christ we witness a God who defines Himself in and amongst the pain and suffering of fleshly existence, “to reconcile all things to Himself”. (Colossians 1:-2) To be a disciple of Christ is to follow after the one who was not crowned as a despotic ruler but rather as a suffering servant; enthroned with thorns for sake of the creation He loves.
Doubtless humanity as a species is special.
Following after Christ as His disciple is even more special.
Yet, special how?
The template for defining this specialness should be what Christ modelled for us; namely the exercising of Lordship through service and the moral priority of the weak. If humanity is indeed set apart, it does not follow that we are set above.
Rather human uniqueness is found in its ability to become the servant species through the embracing and reflecting of Christ’s love which is necessarily self-sacrificing.
To consider ourselves made in the Image of God is to be called to reflect, with ever more clarity, Christ, the true Image of the divine.
In reflecting the love of Christ, we participate in His redeeming work through releasing creation from its suffering and witnessing to its worth and beauty. The exercising of Christ-like Dominion necessitates us not to be merely passive spectators in the world but proactive in prayer and dedicated to the healing of creation.
Christ-less dominion sees the world as a gift. A divinely hand-tied present offered to humanity to do with as it sees fit.
Animals are but items on our menu.
Tools for our use.
Materials for our consumption.
Entertainment for our amusement.
Christ-like Dominion see humanity as the gift.
For our unique capacity to become the servant species, gifts healing and liberation to a world which “groans and travails”, awaiting its freedom from “bondage and decay”. (Romans 8:21-22) In turn, through choosing love and generosity over privilege and power, humanity sharpens its reflection of the Image of God, glimpsing a foretaste of the future, promised Kingdom where there will be no more killing, suffering or death.
For the exercising of Christ-like dominion has a vital eschatological quality whereby the Gospel is proclaimed through living Christ-centred lives; signs of the coming peaceable Kingdom.
Christ taught us to anticipate this Kingdom to be a certain, promised reality.
We are to long for it.
Work for it.
Pray for it through the words Christ taught us:
“Thy Kingdom Come”. If we to truly mean those words “Thy Kingdom Come” and so proclaim the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, whose Kingdom reaches its climax in the defeat of all suffering and death, how we to relate to now Is of critical consequence.
And for us.
- Alison Covey. Christianity and Animal Rights. Lecture at Regis College, University of Toronto. March 2014.
- Andrew Linzey. Animal Theology. University of Illinois Press. 1995
- Andrew Linzey. Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics. OUP USA. 2013.
- Brian McLaren (Afterword), Tripp York (Editor), Andy Alexis-Baker (Editor). A Faith Embracing All Creatures: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Care for Animals (Peaceable Kingdom). Cascade Books (9 Nov. 2012)
- Matthew Scully. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. Souvenir Press Ltd. 2011.
- Robert N. Wennberg. God, Humans, and Animals: An Invitation to Enlarge Our Moral Universe. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2002.