I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like a son of man came with the clouds of heaven … and there was given him dominion, and glory, and kingdom …. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. — Daniel 7:13-14,27
Laudato Si’, the recent papal encyclical on care of the environment, has been met in some quarters by assertions that, contra Francis, the Bible gives absolute dominion over the earth to human beings as a species. However, as George Fox and other Friends saw in the seventeenth century, scripture actually says something quite different.
Dominion belongs to Christ, the Son of Man who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). That is not to say that no human beings can share in that dominion, for Christ includes all who are children of God. Does that not mean everyone? Perhaps surprisingly, it does not. Although some contemporary Quakers might demur, original Quaker thought followed scripture in defining as children of God only those who are “reborn” into Christ and thereby partake of the divine nature, which is agapē. (See 2 Pt 1:4 and 1 Jn 4:16.) Only they, as members of the body of Christ, are entrusted with dominion over the earth, for “the earth, and the abundance thereof, is the Lord’s” (1 Cor 10:26, quoting Ps 24). But unregenerate human beings are, as Fox put it in his book called The Great Mystery [GM], “destroyers and defacers of the workmanship of God” (GM, 553) — a verdict that accords with what we see around us.
I have made a twofold assertion that goes against popular opinion: the Bible grants to human beings in general neither (1) dominion over nature nor (2) the status of child of God. What is my justification?
We begin in the first chapter of the book of Genesis.
 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.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. [Note that dominion does not include the right to kill and eat other animals: in Eden, God gives herbs and other plants for food to humans and other animals.]
According to our creation myth, then, the first human beings were made in the image of God. What does that mean? Recall Paul’s statement in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians: “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things whether in heaven or on earth, the seen and the unseen …. All things were created through him and for him; and he is before all things, and in him all things cohere” (cf. Jn 1). To be created in the image of God is to be created in Christ. And to be in Christ is to be a child of God, for Christ is the only-begotten one. (See, for example, Jn 3:16.) Those who are members of his body (1 Cor 12:27) are the Son, the only Child, of God. They share in the divine nature, and in them all things cohere — are in right relationship.
But is not everyone a member of his body? In a word, no. When, for example, Paul wrote (in 1 Cor 12), “For we are all baptized into one spirit … and … given to drink of that spirit,” he was writing to those who had been “born again” in Christ. As Christ says in Jn 3:5-6, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, one cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is generated of the flesh is flesh, and that which is generated of the spirit is spirit.”
If human beings were created in the image of God — that is, in Christ — why is it that not all of us are now in that image? Why do we need to be, in the spiritual sense, created anew? George Fox explained it in this way:
For man in the beginning lost his uprightness by transgressing the law, and so the devil’s seed comes to be sowed in mankind, and the image of God lost, and the image of the devil is set up in man, and so come darkness, hardness, mists, dimness, and blindness. [GM, 553]
The Genesis myth recognizes that, from almost the beginning of their existence, humans beings lose their innocence: the children of God quickly become the children of evil (see 1 Jn 3:10). By nature, humans “have sin within them” (GM, 486): in other words, and whether we can acknowledge it or not, our hearts are naturally hard and darkened by blindness. Again, liberal Quakers may find that difficult to accept, but it is a key insight of the Quaker tradition and a prerequisite to understanding Fox’s teaching. Although human beings were created in Christ the image of God, as a species we have lost that divine image and the dominion that is proper to it. Fox:
[F]or God made man in his image, and placed him over all the creatures, and gave him an understanding capable of his law, and to know dominion; but when man lost his dominion [initially, over nature within himself], he transgressed his law …. (GM, 483-484)
As we see not only from the results of environmental and climate studies but also from the resistance of those who reject science in service of selfish interests and prejudices, unregenerate human beings cannot be trusted with dominion over the earth. As Fox pointed out, we lack dominion even over our own inward nature: we sin repeatedly, putting our comfort, pleasure, and security over the basic needs of other beings and the planet. And the facts of our contingent and fragile life belie any pretense at dominion over nature at large, which kills us all. For “through one man [i.e., Adam] death entered the world” (see Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:21), and while Christianity believes that Christ has conquered death, it recognizes his victory as proleptic: at present, obviously, death remains in power. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26).
Death is spiritual as well as physical: that truth is harbored in the idea that death entered the world through sin. Because of the darkness of their hearts, human beings reject life in Christ, life as one who is willing to sacrifice self for love of the world. Instead of exercising divine dominion, which is characterized by right-ordering love, they devastate the creation, even rationalizing their evil by perverting scripture to claim a “right” of ruthless domination. But, as we have seen, only Christ — the one “seed” who, in his members, is as innumerable as the stars — has legitimate dominion, for “apart from him not even one thing has come to exist” (Jn 1:3). Dominion belongs, therefore, to those who die to the body of sin and are born into the body of Christ. They are the children of God who live the divine love for the creation, and it is they who would restore the earth. Thus, “the whole creation awaits the appearance of the children of God,” for “when anyone is in Christ: new creation! Behold, the primitive has passed, and all is new-made” (Rom 8:19; 2 Cor 5:17).
How does a child of Adam and Eve regain the divine image and become a child of God? Faith — trust in the power and wisdom of agapē within — is the key. George Fox summarized the process:
Christ saith, “Believe in the light, that ye may be children of the light;” and he that is a child of the light cometh to the birth born of the spirit. And Christ doth enlighten every one that cometh into the world; and “as many as received him, he gave them power to become the sons of God.” And none hear faith, but who hear the light within, which is Christ within, who is the author of it, by which the spirit is received. (GM, 122)
[M]an’s spirit in the fall is polluted, [as is] his body; but as the light is believed in, and the mind changed, his spirit and body are sanctified, and so he comes to be a child of the light, and “his spirit witnesseth with our spirits that we are the sons of God.” (GM, 362)
As we learn to trust the light of agapē that illumines the darkness of our hearts, we receive the power of regeneration and growth into the fullness of that love. Only then are we children of God who, having “come … into the wisdom of God that preserves the creation, and is not destructive” (GM, 148), can rightly exercise dominion. Until then, our rationalizations notwithstanding, we remain “destroyers and defacers of the workmanship of God.”
[T]herefore … wait in the light which comes from Christ the life, that with it you may come to receive refreshing from the Lord; and to know the wisdom of the creation, with which it must be used to the glory of the Creator. So having a light from him by whom the world was made, to whom all power in heaven and earth is given; wait in the light, from him to receive power, which brings [you] out of the world’s lusts and defilements … [and then] you will come to know the right use of the creatures ….*
* Concluding quotation source: George Fox, Gospel Truth Demonstrated, Vol. 1 (Vol. 4 of Works), p. 305.