Surely the threatened mass extermination of species is not what the Lord had in mind when he gave us dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and everything that creeps upon the earth. Ecological disaster had not even been contemplated when theologians concluded that we lived in a fallen world. But what better evidence is there than our inability to grasp the distinction between dominion and domination? We were left in charge of the planet and assumed that gave us license to trash the place. Soon we may find there is nothing left to fear from hell’s torments, having already previewed a lengthy coming attraction right here on earth.
The distinction between dominion and domination hinges on the exercise of personal will. From an early age we seek to dominate our surroundings through acts of will. Inevitably, this brings us into conflict with wills opposed to our own, starting with our parents and ending perhaps in a struggle between our own will and the will of God. We may imagine there is some higher good in subjugating our will to the will of God. But this notion arises from the mistaken belief that we exist apart from God and are even capable of exerting a will independent of his. The concept of free will derives from this same misapprehension.
Once the essential nothingness of self is realized, there is no longer a will to call one’s own – nor, curiously enough, is there an opposing will. Actions arise spontaneously, without intention. Call it the will of God, if a name must be put to it, but there is no sense of subjection or submission here. Quite the contrary, in fact. One has a sense of events unfolding exactly according to the heart’s desire. Therein lies a paradox: in abandoning the will to dominate we are given dominion.