Creation is ours to conquer and it is ours to enjoy. This is stated clearly in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image… And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing.” In this text we are reminded that there is more to our being in God’s image than is often appreciated. We tend to think of God’s image in man merely in moral terms. But God is saying, “Not quite!” Notice that following man’s creation in God’s image, he is unleashed to exercise dominion over the rest of creation. It is as if God is saying to Adam, “endowed with some of my qualities, explore their full potential.”             History reveals that some have obeyed the divine mandate to explore and exploit the world, others have not. To be fair, not all who have obeyed have done so in direct obedience to God. Survival instincts and greed are incentive enough to push for world dominion among the ungodly (Gen. 4:20–22).

Europe’s Experience

Building on the foundation of ancient Greco-Roman genius, Europe slowly progressed towards a greater appreciation of nature’s importance and man’s role in exploiting it. This foundation was, however, largely buried in the quick-sands of the medieval era. With the exception of a few scientific achievements, this foundation remained buried and forgotten until it was born again during the Renaissance (1400s)—which also brought humanism on the crest of its wave.

The 16th century Reformation thankfully arrested the humanistic elements, reinstating man to a freedom which was subservient to God. Man could again interact with nature and exploit it to the full in a responsible and God-honouring fashion.

In developed societies (such as the West), culture is often defined in terms of conquering nature, not militaristic conquest, but a whole host of æsthetically admirable pursuits, such as invading and taming the wild environment, tidying and beautifying surroundings, acquaintance with and love for plants, caring for and domesticating animals, and sightseeing and exploring for no other reason but flattering curiosity.

The West and their disciples (such as Japan) have largely used science to subdue nature. The depths of the earth and sea have been foraged for value addition to life. The lower heavens are being probed constantly, with the moon as guinea pig. On earth, engineering, architectural, and medical milestones are being reached—all in a bid to maximise human comfort, pride, and pleasure. In addition to this, the developed world, largely inspired by capitalistic principles and rewarded by a Bible-based work-ethic has laboured to create the money needed to bring about this progress.

Africa’s Experience

Africa, although possessing great potential, continues to lag behind. The one thing she seems to have understood clearly is God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Fruitful we surely have been. There is no shortage of pregnant women checking in at hospitals to keep our midwives employed and to build our communities and our capacity to be socialists. We are not doing badly in filling the earth.

The problem is that this is where we seem to have stopped listening. Even though God further said, “and subdue it [the earth] and have dominion over [it]…” we have been indifferent to this aspect of the command. Needless to say, the price paid for this lapse is colossal. Never can any people get away with not meticulously heeding divine counsel. The numerous problems facing our continent are a direct consequence of this omission. But why, if I may ask, have Africans not excelled in the important duty of subduing the earth? May I suggest four culture-related reasons?

  1. Communalism

The African psyche is communalistic. He is normally not a true African who does not derive fulfilment from extended family connections. Each one’s supreme obligation is the wellbeing of his or her people. Hence the wider family support system that entitles each one to his people’s possessions. We manage our opportunities, business, wealth, assets, authority, and everything with socialistic assumptions. Reference is to societal propriety, judgment, and approval. We are a function of the views and verdicts of our people. Family strength and success are drawn from clan solidarity. Relations define our worldview.

This setup is assumed to offer incontestable socio-economic security that renders individual creativity and ambition unnecessary. And yet the “dominion” mandate was given primarily to the individual (Adam), for the purpose of freeing his exploratory powers and granting him indulgence of nature. Eve’s arrival was not only complementary; it also encouraged diversity in culture-making. The growing numbers of Adam and Eve’s children created the stage for wholesome competition which has its place in a developing society. And yet competition is deemed subversive of clan solidarity in an average African context. Socialists work for one another, they do not compete—or do they? Little wonder that for the average African the idea of earth-dominion seems far-fetched.

  1. Authoritarianism

From infancy the African child is drilled to revere older people, power being deposited in them. Power and authority are custodians of tradition and clan solidarity. Tucked beneath the seat of power are numerous privileges. These may include monopoly of wisdom and opinion, power to command and discipline, access to the treasury, immunity against prosecution, and power to veto challenges to rulers. Not surprisingly, leaders are massively idolised with the unconcealed aspiration to be like them someday.

Dissent, innovation, and venturing can be risky enterprises, seen as subtle attempts to wrest power. The problem is that neither does one have appetite for them later in life, when power is earned. No hope then for enterprise. “Oldies” entertain no ambition; youths are spanked for engaging in it. Docility is the hallmark of people under the various species of autocratic rule. Yet this is the antithesis of the autonomy and aggression required to explore and dominate nature.

  1. Traditionalism

Africans are strict traditionalists. Like all other people groups, they feel duty-bound to conserve their culture. They do this by outlawing change through myriad taboos and employment of lethal force against attempts to challenge culture. Challenging customs or defying taboos can be life-threatening. All this numbs any appetite for experimentation and slows the impetus to invent and dominate.

  1. Naturalism

If there is a single reason why Africans are the most reluctant people to pursue the earthly dominion mandate, it is their naturalism. African people have a unique relationship with that which they are supposed to subdue. While others view nature as resource and agent of pleasure, they relate to it as redeemer and protector. From a very traditional perspective, they see themselves as integrated with nature, even when conscious of their being its exalted custodian. They live with it and survive on it just as it looks to them for its safeguard. They even share names with it. They sustain an intimate mutually respectful relationship bearing mystical strands with it. Conservation is often the most honourable management of nature, in this setting.

Who will dare turn an object of veneration (nature) into an object of exploration, research, and development? Certainly not the traditional African! Without a doubt, naturalism strangles world dominion. Lower creation ought to fear man, not the reverse (Gen. 9:2). It ought to be mined and harnessed by man.


Fixing our eyes on seven theological lighthouses should direct us to the safe harbour of God’s will in this matter.

  1. God gave man the mandate to rule creation. This is not dominion in the form of brute control. It is benevolent, harmonious, exquisite rule. It is exploitation of resources to meet conveniences and necessities of life without waste.
  2. God planted a garden (Genesis 2:8). So important is beautifying the environment that God personally engaged in it. And God did a splendid job of it! The outcome was “pleasant to the sight.” In fact at every creative turn God says “it is good,” reminding us that there is tremendous fulfilment in creativity and that it is desirable to seek pleasure in it. God’s garden also served as a template of how we must manage the rest of the world we inhabit.
  3. God took the man and put him in the beautiful garden (Genesis 2:8). Man’s ideal habitat must be aesthetically appealing: clean, well ordered, and all-round delightful. Anything less does not please God. Away with squalor and disarray!
  4. God assigned man to keep the garden (Genesis 2:15). Man must neither be idle nor busy on tasks whose output is shabby, shoddy, or shadowy. Prone to degeneration, all creation requires constant maintenance. This demands skilled hard work. As stewards of God’s world, we are expected to hand it down to posterity better than we found it.
  5. God authorised man to name all the creatures (Genesis 2:20). Man’s lordship includes not just flora but fauna and everything else (Genesis 1:26). We must stop at nothing in exploring and enjoying the world. What is in Jupiter? Well, let us get there and see! We could find the herb to cure cancer! Let us delight in all of creation and celebrate it in poetry, art, architecture, song, and sermon.
  6. God brought woman to assist the man in his work (Genesis 2:18). Eve was to be Adam’s adorable lover. Yet she was more. She was to be workmate, according to the context. She was to bring her elegance to bear on the global managerial function. Society is richer when it coalesces to enhance rather than subtract from labour and world conquest. Take heed socialist societies!

God imposed restriction on man’s dominion (2:16, 17). Even when man is lord of his realm, God is lord of man. God chose one tree, an ever present visible object as man’s check of obedience, to rivet the solemn reminder that only God is absolutely sovereign. Immoderate indulgence of nature is thereby condemned


You do yourselves great harm as a courting couple if you indulge in physical intimacy. But you equally do yourselves great harm if you do not invest in quality wholesome romance.

  1. Disobedience is held up as an obstacle to full enjoyment of this earth’s good. God’s glory is hoisted as the ultimate end in exploiting and enjoying creation. The tree of life pointed to a fulfilment beyond the supply of nature, in Christ.

Formed from the earth, man was placed on earth to derive his subsistence and amusement from it and to honourably rule over it to the praise and glory of the Son of God, who partook of this earthly form for our redemption, whose consummation awaits the new earth.


  1. John Calvin, Genesis, Banner of Truth Trust, 1984
  2. Francis Schaeffer, How should we then live? Crossway Books, 1983

3. Choolwe Mwetwa, Why Africa is Poor (unpublished), 2010