Morality 4: And He Gave Them Dominion , , ,
There is a passage in the book of Genesis which has receives a lot of slack today.
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”(Genesis 1:26-28)
The term “man” here refers to both men and women who are asked to have “dominion” over the earth and everything on it. Now this word dominion seems to evoke the connotation of power and domination. I wish here in this short entry to point to another manner in which to understand this dominion, namely through “elevation.”
I would argue that there are three states to this reality that we are all a part of, namely: the material, the intellectual, and the spiritual. The material refers to this common plane we all inhabit with our five senses. It is the stuff that makes up our body, our blood and the earth. But then there is the intellectual. This refers to our thoughts and ideas and the entire mental life we all have to ourselves. Finally, there is the spiritual realm which refers to our soul, and its relationship to God and the angels and the entire heavenly court.
It seems one idea that I missed in school was that higher levels “perfect” and order the levels underneath it. Hence, the material is perfected and ordered by the mental. So then, whenever you choose to not have that third donut even though your body craves such sugary delights, that is an example of the rational leading the material and ordering it well. After all, having too many donuts is simply bad for our health. Of course the body does not “know” this and so the rational part of us needs to lead.
Likewise the spiritual envelops and orders the rational inside of us. God’s Spirit brings us Wisdom and clarity. His grace moves our passions and desires so that we are truly searching for God and His greater glory. What’s more, I remember CS Lewis saying that our soul is naturally “submissive” toward God. That is, our nature (whether man or woman) finds its true home and purpose in praising, reverencing, and serving the Lord.
This is all a long and roundabout way to express the relationship that morality and ethics ought to bring to our daily lives. Indeed, we are called to bring the order of reason and spirit into our bodies and into our desires.
That desire to eat as much as we can, whenever we can, needs to be ordered and directed through right reason. When our desire for sexual satisfaction begins to drive us toward persons and objects that do not lead to life and children within the confines of marriage – our reason needs to step in and say “wait a second!” What’s more, when our anger leads us to hold in resentment and unable to forgive – our spiritual life needs to come in and say “Lord, help me to let this one go.”
To bring the order of right reason into all our passions, desires, and intentions seems to be the goal of the ethical system described by Aristotle (and later by Aquinas). It is to allow the greater to have “dominion” over the lesser so as to direct it toward its ultimate good. This is where creation seems to be headed as indicated in Genesis 1. Finally, in our own sharing in the Christ life, it also seems to be where we are all ultimately headed.