In order to understand our responsibilities in the world, the place to begin is with what God has told us to do. This instruction from God is found in Genesis, in what has come to be called the cultural mandate. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). The same mandate is repeated later to Noah, showing that the unfortunate intrusion of sin and rebellion did not abrogate that mandate. “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen. 9:1). The reality of sin and the resultant curse did, however, affect our ability to obey. This ability was not restored until the salvation that was brought by Jesus Christ.
And this is why we should begin our meditation on this subject by considering childbirth and fields full of weeds. The principal impact of the curse fell in a two-fold way on men and women respectively. Just as the cultural mandate was first given immediately after God said “male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:27), so the curse for sin fell on male and female respectively. The curse for the man involved weeds, great sorrow in tilling the soil. The curse for the woman involved great sorrow in childbearing (Gen. 3:16). In fact, God says that He will multiply sorrows for the woman in childbearing, and the word used for multiply is the same word used in the cultural mandate. Before the Fall, children were to multiply. After the Fall, the children still come, but it is the sorrows that are multiplied.
Our first duty in understanding dominion is therefore to remember the pattern of the gospel–creation, fall, redemption. To assert that childbearing should be easy, or that weeds are a natural part of the ecological system is fundamentally un-Christian at the foundation. In a day when many products are hawked with the glowing description of “all-natural,” we must remember that nature is not the standard. Nature is fallen. Christ is the standard because Christ is the future of nature.