The Cultural Mandate

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Genesis is the book of beginning — this is too often neglected by Christians. Here we see the beginning of the world, obviously, but also the beginning of marriage, of work, of rest, of music, and of many other of God’s good gifts. In short, the book of Genesis provides us with a basic understanding of our relationship to the world around us. What are we supposed to do while we are here?

“Then God blessed them, and God said to the, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth'” (Gen. 1:28).

“So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs” (Gen. 9:1-3).

So here are our marching orders. This command from God has historically been called the cultural mandate. Before the Fall, God expressly gave dominion to mankind over all creation. This is seen in the passage from the first chapter of Genesis. But God reiterates this charge to Noah — Noah lived after the Fall, and this mandate is given immediately after a stupendous judgment on sin. The presence of sin obviously does not lift or remove the cultural mandate.

In radical environmental circules, the current dogma is that man is the cancer of the planet. Undergirding may of the political controversies of the day is an unbiblical view of reality — i.e. inconsistent pantheism. This is what drives contemporary environmentalism.

But the problem is sin. We must take care not to react to contemporary kookery — environmental extremists, animal rights nuts, etc. Our position is to be the biblical one, and not a reactionary one. Consider, for example, “Woe to those who join house to house; they add field to field, till there is no place where they may dwell alone in the midst of the land!” (Is. 5:8). “A righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel” (Prov. 12:10).

So the problem is sin, not man as such. The Bible teaches that creation is fallen, and groans as in the pains of childbirth (Rom 8). This is the result of sin, it is not sin itself. The Bible always defines sin in terms of disobedience to God’s law. Sin is not found in the material world, or in a part of the material world (i.e. the presence of mankind).

Consider the words of Psalm 8, which includes a promise of restoration of all things in Christ. The author of the book of Hebrews takes this passage from the Psalms and plainly applies it to mankind in Christ. Consider his application of the psalm. The mandate remains in force for impotent man — but that impotence is removed in Christ.

“For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: ‘What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.’ For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:5-10).

To this, there are three possible responses. One is like the man who buried his talent in the ground because he feared a harsh master. Cultural responsibility is just too hard, and so escapist religion is born. A second likes the idea of “dominion” and so he begins to eat and drink, and beat the fellow servants. Power religion. The third humbles himself, and enters into godly dominion through and in Christ.

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