God the Gardener (Part II)

(An Excerpt from Parables Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

(Matthew 13:24-30, Genesis 1-3)

A day or two ago, preparing to plant my garden, I pulled some quack grass that had escaped the teeth of the rototiller and marvelled over its hardiness.  Moments later, transferring my somewhat sad-looking, baby tomato plants from their bedding-plant containers to their new home in the garden, I wondered if they would survive the transition and thought, “Something’s wrong with this picture.”

Something is out of kilter in our world.  Something’s disjointed in our reality when the edible things, the useful things, the desirable things, require enormous amounts of my time, energy, and attention just to survive and the things that serve no apparent purpose require enormous amounts of my time, energy, and attention just to control.  And control is all I’ll ever manage.  The weeds are unstoppable.  By me, that is.

My thoughts quickly moved from literal wheat and weeds to the non-literal kind Jesus talked about in His parable of the wheat and weeds in Matthew 13:24-30.  Why is it that a parent can spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and attention trying to raise good kids, but one wrong kind of friend can undo in a month what took years to instill?  Why are bad habits so quick to form and so slow to break?  Why does junk food taste better than Brussels sprouts and broccoli?  Why is bad so much easier for us than good?  Why does everything tend to run downhill on our earth and only through the greatest efforts of time, energy, and attention can anything be pushed inch-by-grueling-inch upwards?

An interesting note on Jesus’ parable: the weeds in the garden that represents the world in His story were planted.  By “an enemy.”

As I was planting my garden, pulling quack grass, and thinking about wheat and weeds, I said to myself, “Anyone reading His story about the wheat and the weeds would know that Jesus was no gardener.  Weeds need no planting.”  I think it was at that point when I climbed aboard the train of thought as Jesus as a gardener — the original Gardener.  Unlike the rest of us, He got to experience gardening before that “running downhill” tendency was in place.  In fact, His mini-epic in Matthew 13:24-30 shows us how that tendency was set in place.  But when He planted His original garden, there was no “weed problem.”

The weeds (even literal ones, in fact) are no accidents.  Originally, they didn’t “just happen.”  They were planted.  Jesus’ story reminds us of that truth.  And Genesis 3 gives us the details of that event.

From Jesus’ second parable in Matthew 13, the Son of Man planted His “good seed” in the field of the world. And in that act, I see a picture of God (Father, Son, and Spirit) creating humanity out of a heart of love and out of a desire to delight in relationship with us.  But relationship requires freedom.  There can be no love without choice.  We can see it from our own experience of love.  So God gave the first humans a choice.

Also, all good things are good things because ultimately they reflect the character of God in some way.  Freedom is a good thing because God is free.  He makes choices.  He does as He wills to do.  Our freedom is a good thing (though misused like many — okay, all — of God’s good gifts to us) because it is an extension of His freedom.  Even His enemy (before he became the enemy) and all his cohorts were free to choose.  God does not believe in slavery.  His servants must serve Him freely.

God believes so strongly in freedom He gave dominion over the earth into the hands of its first human inhabitants in Genesis 1:26.  And in a sense (in the same sense that a democracy is a rule “by the people” because of their freedom to choose their government) to every one of their descendants since.

But from Genesis 3, Planet Earth’s first governors chose to turn themselves and the earth over to the control of a master who emphatically does not believe in freedom.

Romans 6:16 informs us that whom we choose to obey, we make our master.  The first humans chose to serve Satan by doing what he wanted them to do.  God gave the first humans that ability to so choose.  He gave them freedom.  They could do with it as they chose.  He had made mankind the masters of the earth.  They made Satan the master of the masters of the earth.  And so we now find ourselves in a state of existence where the enemy is “the ruler of this world.”  It’s a title Jesus used repeatedly for him (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11).

But what about us?  Why should Adam and Eve’s wrong choice affect every one of us?

God still believes in freedom.  We’re still all given a vote as to whom we want to rule our world.  The problem is that we all start out in a world under the immediate control of “the ruler of this world” who also happens to be a very active and clever deceiver, and it doesn’t take long before every single one of us casts a vote for the present, reigning power.

Isn’t it ironic that the gift God has given every one of us is the very thing His enemy dangles before us as bait after convincing us it’s the very thing God is holding back from us?  Satan’s campaign promise is that his way is the only way to freedom, and despite the massive weight of evidence to the contrary, we believe him.

“Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” was how the serpent opened his conversation with the woman in Genesis 3:1.  Do you see it?  How shrewdly the serpent gave the wrong slant to the choice God had given the first humans!  To keep the woman from being reminded of all the trees she was free to eat from, he put the focus on the one prohibition she was given.  And then, he led her to believe that because she was given one prohibition, she wasn’t free.

The complete reverse is the fact.  Without the prohibition, there would have been no true freedom for the first couple.  Freedom is synonymous with the ability to make choices, and as far as I can tell, God instituted a prohibition for the sake of giving Adam and Eve a choice.  But the serpent leads us to believe that if there’s any prohibition at all, defying that prohibition will be the only act of freedom.

His next suggestion to the woman was more blatant.

In Genesis 3:5, the serpent promised the woman she could become like God through disobeying His one command.

There is only One who is completely free — who can do whatever He chooses.  That One is the Lord God Almighty.  His enemy made his bid to serve only himself, and he has convinced every human since that serving oneself is the only freedom—that we can be “like God” and be completely and utterly free.  The fact of the case is that self-service is impossible for us.   God made us as dependent creatures, and He did it for a reason.  We were not created for complete independence.

While whispering in our ears about the freedom he’s offering us, the father of all lies doesn’t bother to mention the tiny detail that a rejection of God’s rule in our lives makes His enemy our master.  And here’s the result of making Satan our master:  slavery.  God is the God of freedom.  He believes in giving us choices.  Satan believes in stripping us of them.

And this brings us back to the weeds in my garden and in Matthew 13 and all that’s wrong with our world.  Why should servitude to Satan mean that everything tends to run downhill?  Why must the world be out of kilter and require a great deal of hard labour just to survive in it?  Because God is about freedom.  Satan is about slavery.  And God allows us to see what the world looks like under the control of our hard taskmaster.

The first humans could have had no real idea what they were choosing.  God had warned them about the death that would follow the overthrow of His light yoke of free servitude.  But could the word “death” have any meaning for them?

I’ve asked myself, “Why wouldn’t God try harder to let them know what they were choosing?  Why wouldn’t He show them somehow, help them make an informed choice?”

And then I try to imagine what else He could have done to warn them.  Played a sort of “home movie” for them of our world as it is now?  Still, till a person experiences a reality for himself, that reality doesn’t become real to him.  I’ve watched a lot of movies.  None of them were real to me.  Adam and Eve could not, I believe, know — really know — the difference between good and evil without tasting of the evil.  Anything else would have been just hearing words — just watching someone else’s home movies.

Then, there’s the point that Adam and Eve chose to believe the serpent and disbelieve God.  God could have talked Himself blue in the face about the consequences of choosing to listen to the serpent, but once the choice was made to disbelieve God’s words, would it have made any difference how many words God had used or how many other methods He may have used in an attempt to show His creatures the folly of disobedience?

I think God did the only thing He could do.  He gave the first humans a real freedom with real consequences.  Adam and Eve may not have known exactly what they were choosing, but every one of their children should.  We see that “running downhill” effect.  We see that our world is out of kilter.  We feel the misery of it.  Then, God tells us in His Book the reasons for it.  Shouldn’t we all decide to cast our votes against making God’s enemy the ruler of our world?  That is the effect the hardship and misery in our world should have.  And praise God, it often does.  He uses the disjointedness of our world more than any other means, I believe, to draw people, sick to death of their enslaved state, back to Himself.  He can even use the enemy’s work of weed-planting in His own work of wheat-planting.  He’s just like that!

The weeds in my garden are a little picture that the earth is dying.  They are part of that “running downhill” tendency of which death is the sum total.  They were a sign to Adam, the gardener, that the earth was beginning to die and that one day He, too, would die.  The verses of Gen. 3:17-19 are all about (what I, in a non-scientific usage, call) the second law of thermodynamics.  All part of allowing us to see what the consequences of making Satan our master look like.

It strikes me that Jesus, the original Gardener, as He recounted the incident of His enemy planting weeds in the field of the world, may have been reliving the moment in His mind when Adam was informed that thorns and thistles would overtake the ground.  Was that moment His inspiration for His little story about some wheat and weeds?  I don’t know, of course, but over and over, I see the spiritual truths God instilled into the parable that we call nature.

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