Dominion is for Men; Specialization is for Insects

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

— Robert A. Heinlein

I think I agree with this. God gave us a commission to take dominion over the earth. Now, I start to run into eschatology and dispensationalism here, but I think I can be vague enough to still get at the point. When Christ told the apostles to go and make disciples, I do not believe this was a new thing. I believe it was a continuation of the dominion mandate. Or maybe a “fulfillment”.

If we take “the kingdom of God” to be “the rule of God in the hearts of men”, then WHATEVER your eschatology is, you’ve got to be behind advancing the kingdom in this sense. Even premillenial rapture-ready dispensationalists like me. If we do not assume that Jesus WILL come back within the next couple of decades and admit that He might not come back for 10,000 more years, then all eschatological systems start to converge for all practical purposes. The ship might be sinking, but right now the hole might be very tiny, and there is indeed brass that needs polishing and deck chairs to rearrange, for we may not sink for many years.

And if we are not Gnostics, we know that “teaching them to obey all things” that God commanded is not simply a mental or emotional exercise. We are both physical and spiritual beings, and we would be biblically illiterate fools not to realize that your body and your spirit affect each other for good or for evil (see Romans 8:11, 12:1 for instance).

It’s not hard to understand that your physical actions and circumstances will affect your spirit. Your physical actions may be sinful. Or perhaps, like Paul, you subject your body to discipline to bring it under control. Our physical eyes are a great source of temptation. Our physical mouths can praise God.

Our physical circumstances can influence us. One easy example – what if your job was to be a DJ at a strip club? Clearly, you would be exposed to a lot of temptation and wickedness. This would likely be a negative influence on you. On the other hand, if you were, say, a Bible translator, this would more likely have a positive influence on your spirit.

But I don’t think those extreme cases are really relevant to most of us. I believe there are far more pervasive and mundane circumstances that influence us more than we probably recognize.

I’ll start with another extreme, contrived example, and then move to a more mundane case.

Let’s suppose that a bunch of really moral Christians got together and formed an intentional community that was geographically separated from the rest of the world, and largely self-sufficient. And let’s further suppose that these Christians would ban anyone falling into various forms of sin, ban unbelievers, and so forth.

This might be good for them. Certainly many forms of temptation and evil influences would go away.

But what else would happen? Might these Christians tend to think of Christianity in terms of moral rules? Might they become self righteous? Would they demonize outsiders, remembering that they are sons of Satan but forgetting that they are also Christ’s lost sheep? You betcha.

In the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan creates a familiar scenario where the Bad Guys live in one geographic location and the hardy men who live in those border lands daily struggle with them. But those who live far from the battle _don’t even believe it’s going on_. And they grow complacent, and weak – until the invasion.

Similarly, if Christians are so far removed from the battle of the seed of the woman vs the seed of the serpent, could we forget that there was a battle? Now we obviously aren’t all called to fight in the same way, and it’s possible that our cultural warriors are going about it all wrong. We do not have to live in a garbage can to know that it stinks. But it’s going to be hard to remember that it does in fact stink if you haven’t seen a garbage can in years.

Now let’s move from this silly example towards a more common one. Let’s say that a group of Christians were able to amass a fortune. An absolute fortune. And they established a trust fund that adequately provided living expenses for all the members of that community. Let’s assume it was managed somehow that they were absolutely confident the trust fund would always be there.

Would this affect those believers? Sure it would. It would remove the incentive to work. It would also remove a constant reminder that _God_ provides for us. They would not need to trust God for their daily bread.

There is a prayer in the Old Testament (somewhere in Psalms?) to the effect “God, please don’t make me rich, so I won’t forget You.”

It would be an evil thing for Christians to forget that God was providing the things they needed. I mean, they would know that _theoretically_ God was providing for them, but not in any practical sense.

Now I’ll attempt a poor segue to drive the point home.

In the same way, what if humans were able to specialize enough that, while the system as a whole was arguably having dominion over the earth, very few individuals could see that in a direct way? Would _that_ have any spiritual implications?

It’s one thing for me to give money to a church, who gives money to a state convention, who gives money to a national convention, who provides a budget for an organization, who sends a paycheck to missionaries. I know that my check is theoretically going to support missions. But it is another thing entirely for me to directly send a check to a missionary or to _be_ a foreign missionary. The first way is probably more efficient (and I do not mean to criticize the SBC’s Cooperative Program particularly – it’s just an example). But it might serve to help me forget what I’m actually doing.

It’s one thing for me to write programs that help produce silicon wafers which are then sold to companies that use them to make electronic chips that are then sold to other companies who assemble them into useful electronic devices. Yes, I am helping to make computers and cell phones. But I’m so far removed, and my contribution is so indirect, that it’s easy to forget. And the connection between making computers and taking dominion over the earth is another indirect link. There are way more than six degrees of separation between “Robert’s job” and “subduing the earth”.

It’s bad when it is just _what I do_ that is so far removed. But it’s even worse when it’s not only what I _do_, but what I _know how to do_. No human can do all those things Heinlein mentioned, and we don’t need to. But shouldn’t we have at least some minimum competency when it comes to all the various things humans do in order to have dominion over the earth? Wouldn’t that make it far easier to remember that we are _trying_ to have dominion over the earth?

I think we specialize too easily. That’s why Y2K was so scary. We cannot really survive without the system. We are not _interdependent_. We are _dependent_. If the system breaks down, we all die, because we are generally incompetent outside the area we’ve chosen to specialize in. Division of labor has made us lazy.

Hopping back to the strictly spiritual, 2 Timothy 3:17 says that the Scriptures will make us thoroughly equipped for every good work. It’s true that the church is a body, and the hand is not a foot, and the ear is not an eye. But we must not carry the metaphor too far. I used to excuse myself because I do not have the gifts of encouragement and mercy. And I don’t. But 2 Tim 3:17 says nothing about my gifts. It says that the Bible will equip me for every good work. It’s not my specialty, but I have no excuse to not be able to comfort and encourage others. Just like others have no excuse to not be able to preach and teach at some minimum level of competency.

I believe that a well-rounded liberal education and general competency in many areas of life, are essential to functioning as the redeemed children of God as we carry out the task of subduing the earth and establishing the rule of God in the hearts of men. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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2 Responses to Dominion is for Men; Specialization is for Insects

  1. I think there’s something to what you’re saying, but doesn’t the general thrust of I Cor 12 run in the opposite direction?

  2. Robert says:

    That came to my mind when I was thinking about this. Here’s my take.

    Since the church is metaphorically a body, particularly in 1 Cor 12, I think it’s fair to consider how my body actually works. I do not walk on my hands or type with my feet. But, I am able to do things like pick stuff up with my toes even though my hands are much better at it. If need be, I could drag myself around using only my hands and arms. And handicapped people are able to compensate by using other senses or limbs.

    I guess I am making a distinction between “specialization” and “expertise”. I think of specialization as involving incompetence and ignorance in areas outside one’s specialty. Whereas expertise, in the way I’m using it, means that you might be competent in many areas, but you are _especially_ good at a few.

    If the word of God makes a godly man _thoroughly_ equipped for _every_ good work, then it must equip us for teaching, mercy, administration, evangelism, encouragement, and so forth. Teachers don’t get a “bye” on encouragement, nor do the merciful and encouraging get a “bye” on holding or being able to teach sound doctrine.

    It’s not my area of expertise, and there are many people who are much better at encouragement than I am. Fortunately, I married one of those people. :-) But I am able to do a halfway decent job, or at least I ought to be able to.

    I can’t excuse my own disorganization and lack of executive ability as “not my gift” – it’s a shortcoming that can and should be overcome. But I will not be as good of an administrator as some folks I know who are particularly good at it.

    If circumstances permit, I can be the teacher, my wife can be the encourager, Kathleen can be the administrator/organizer, John can be the evangelist, Adam can be the sympathizer, etc. But I am also equipped by God to do a minimally competent job at encouraging others, organizing and administration, evangelism, and so forth.

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