What is the role of humanity in nature?

Some of the ongoing debates in our society concern animal rights and land development. As followers of the one and only true God, what position should we take? How should we treat animals? Do animals have rights? Is it OK to develop more land? Genesis provides some broad guidelines regarding these questions, starting in the very first chapter.

The first 25 verses of Genesis record how God made the universe, the earth, plants, and animals. Beginning in verse 26 we read about God creating people. What do the following verses tells us about the role of people on the earth?

Gen. 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

The role of humanity: fill the earth, subdue the earth, and rule the earthNotice the words rule, fill, and subdue. God’s original intent was for people to fill the earth, subdue the earth, and rule over the animals. Now let’s consider Gen 2:18-20 which tells us that when God was looking for a helper for Adam, He considered each animal but could not find anything suitable for Adam.

Gen. 2:18-20 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.

These verses tell us that animals are not suitable companions for people. What does that tell us about the role that pets should have in our lives?

A third passage to consider is Genesis 9. God had destroyed all life on the earth except that which was with Noah on the ark. When they came off the ark and started the task of repopulating the earth, God repeated some instructions about man’s role in nature. He also decreed that fear would now be part of the relationship.

Gen. 9:1-2 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.

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God told Noah and his sons to fill the earth. Notice the last phrase: “into your hand they are given”. “Your” refers to Noah and his descendants. “They” refers to the animals. God gave the animals into the hands of Noah’s descendants and decreed that the animals would be afraid of Noah’s descendants.

As followers of the one true God, our beliefs about animal rights and land development need to be based on three facts:

  1. God told people to fill the earth.
  2. God told people to subdue the earth.
  3. God decreed that people rule over animals.

Let me close by balancing our role of ruler with some wisdom from Proverbs.

Prov. 12:10 A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”