Saturday, October 3, 2009

Subdue the Earth

In Genesis 1:28, God instructs man to “multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Virtually all Bible translations render the identical imperative: subdue the earth. The term is sometimes misunderstood, especially in a day when we are becoming more aware of the need for prudent care of our planet. In this context, the meaning suggests that both humanity and the earth will benefit from our action, while neither will be harmed.

How should we understand "subdue" in this application? Consider how a vineyard must be pruned to control unwanted and detrimental growth, or how a garden needs to be weeded, cultivated, and supplied with water and nutrients at appropriate times. Think of methods of taming rivers: using them for irrigation, flood control, energy production, or travel. We have devised internal combustion engines to convert chemical energy to useful motion, combining many simple machines to fashion complex functioning units. In modern times we have understood electromagnetic theory, and have now harnessed the energy of many different electromagnetic waves for multiple applications, including the transfer of nearly limitless quantities of information through space almost instantly. In the last fifty years scientists have unlocked the DNA code, applying that knowledge to man’s benefit in the fields of medicine and agriculture. This summary barely scratches the surface.

From the moment of the creation of man, all of earth's raw potential existed untamed, waiting for man to discover how to subdue it. In many cases the wait lasted thousands of years. The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation has existed throughout the timeline of cosmic history. But man has learned how to tap its potential a mere moment ago in terms of the timeline of human history. In the Old Testament there are many descriptions of agricultural discovery, from tending and working the Garden to maximizing productivity by letting the land lie fallow periodically--the equivalent of taking a rest break to regain one’s strength. The captive Hebrews observed and no doubt participated in Egyptian construction projects which amaze even modern building technologists.

Subdue the earth. Does this mean conquer, subjugate, overuse, or abuse? Or does it refer to acts of intelligent discovery and management--sometimes activating, at other times restraining and controlling? The Genesis directive to “subdue” was an imperative to apply principles we now consider scientific in order to benefit man while tenderly caring for the environment. Man has been gifted by God to accomplish this task.