A beaver subdues his surroundings and shapes a dam for a good purpose, a house. He seems to enjoy his work; and even the diligence and skill of the beaver reflects the glory of God’s wisdom. So what is the difference between a human being at work and a beaver at work? Or for that matter, a bee or hummingbird or an ant? They all work hard; they subdue their surroundings and shape them into amazing structures that serve good purposes.
The difference is that humans are morally self-conscious and make choices about their work on the basis of motives that may or may not honor God.
No beaver or bee or hummingbird or ant consciously relies on God.
No beaver ponders the divine pattern of order and beauty and makes a moral choice to pursue excellence because God is excellent. No beaver ever pondered the preciousness and purpose of God and decided for God’s sake to make a dam for another beaver and not for himself. But humans have all these potentials because we are created in God’s image. We are created to image forth in these ways.
When God commissions us to subdue the earth–to shape it and use it–he doesn’t mean do it like a beaver. He means do it like a human, a morally self-conscious person who is responsible to do his work intentionally for the glory of his Maker.
To be sure, when God sens us forth to work as his image-bearers, our ditches are to be dug straight, our pipe-fittings are not to leak, our cabinet corners should be flush, out surgical incisions should be clean, our word processing accurate and appealing, and our meals nutritious and attractive, because God is a God of order and beauty and competence. But cats are clean, and ants are industrious, and spiders produce orderly and beautiful works. And all of them are dependent on God. Therefore, the essence of our work as humans must be that it is done in conscious reliance on God’s power, and in conscious quest of God’s pattern of excellence, and in deliberate aim to reflect God’s glory (in all that we do).