ou work in your garden this spring prepping the soil, planting seeds or starts, and weeding, you will participate in one of the most foundational ways Christians can be “renewed in knowledge after the image of [our] creator” (Colossians 3:10). This is because one of the primary ways God reveals himself as our creator is as a gardener. He cultivates the earth and thereby grows new life from the ground.
God the Gardener
Genesis 1 portrays the intimate, intentional activity of God in creation, modeling what “dominion” looks like for the image-bearers who would come on the sixth day. Godly rulership is exercised for the very goodness of a diverse, abundantly flourishing creation. God’s rule sustains all creatures, of all their various “kinds,” knitting them together into whole, healthy ecosystems that support life. God put the ground in place, nestling it in the midst of the waters above and below, where it would have rainfall and sunshine, to be the place where human and non-human creatures flourish together.
Beyond showing God gardening creation toward flourishing, Genesis 2:8 tells us directly: “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (emphasis mine). The King of Creation is a gardener, and he created humans in his image to garden creation like their creator, alongside their creator, who is not an absentee landlord but is actively involved, “walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”
The key here is that the act of gardening is a crucial metaphor for understanding how God intends “dominion” to be carried out. His reign is not far off in some distant throne room, aloof to the goings-on of the world below and issuing orders from afar; rather, his holiness has no qualms being intimately, even messily, invested in tending the soil to produce life.
“But isn’t this all just a metaphor? God isn’t really a gardener, he’s only like a gardener.” To this I would say, “Yes, and….” Yes, the image of God gardening is just that, an image. He does more than planting and harvesting as he rules the universe.
And…my challenge is for us to see that God as a gardener is a potent image grounded in two biblical realities: 1) the human experience of gardening from which the image is drawn is itself an image-bearing reenactment of God’s original creation, which in the Bible is explicitly referred to in horticultural terms (Genesis 2:8), and 2) the original calling of humanity to bear God’s image by cultivating the ground of the garden in which God placed them (Genesis 2:15) is not a metaphor—all technological innovation which humanity has heretofore cultivated is grounded, has its very physical, biological, literal foundation in the agricultural and ecological flourishing of the places upon which society is built.
Cursed Is the Ground Because of You
Not long after humans come into the picture, however, the very ground itself is cursed by God because of human sin. After Adam and Eve sin against God, taking upon themselves the definition of good and evil and listening to the serpent’s lies, God lets his human creatures know of the consequences that come from such prideful self-realization:
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;”
The very relationships we were made for are now cursed. Notice, critically, that the curse God pronounces here, though brought about by our sin, is spoken over the ground. The curse upon creation lands precisely in the place where our livelihood and purpose originates: the land itself. We have become aliens upon the very ground from which and for which we were created.
Cursed Is He Who Hung On A Tree
Where we failed in our God-imaging dominion and brought a curse upon the ground from which we live, Jesus succeeds. Descending into the ground on Good Friday, Jesus bore the curse on the cross, redeeming us by hanging on a tree.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written,
‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’
Then he brought the blessing of new life back by rising from the ground on Easter Sunday. The place beneath our feet, the very ground itself, was the place of both curse and redemption. Adam, Cain, and all humanity after them had been “cursed from the ground,” with Abel’s blood crying out as witness against our rebellion, but Jesus brought redemption up from the ground “to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”. He overcame our sinful domination by submitting himself to the very death and destruction our sin has wrought.
Bearing Fruit from the Tree of Life
We were created to cultivate and bear fruit, literally and figuratively. That creational purpose was frustrated when the ground was cursed, bringing widespread death, and only by the death of Eve’s promised seed will redemption come, reconciling us to the ground and restoring humanity’s call to bear fruit by our loving rule of creation.
When God enters creation as the Gardener King, taking the curse upon himself by dying on a tree, being buried like a seed from the tree of life into the ground, and rising from the same three days later, he bears the fruit of sacrificial followers who are connected to him like branches on a vine. Later, when the Spirit reminds these followers that their risen and reigning Gardener King told them that they glorify the Father when they “bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples”, they, and every follower of Jesus after them, should understand it as, yes, a metaphor about loving God and neighbor, but also, in its broadest biblical sense, as a call to emulate God’s loving rule of creation.
Reconciled to the Ground
How else can we prove that we follow the One of whom it is said “all things were made through him” but by living into Jesus’ reconciliation of all things, whether on earth or in heaven? Let us, then, actively embody the reality that, in Christ, we can be reconciled to everything Jesus created in the beginning and redeemed on the cross, including the ground beneath our feet which sustains our lives and that of our neighbors.
We can do this by following Jesus, our Gardener King, to the cross. We are called to embody the new creation which Jesus has inaugurated even now, as ministers of the whole-creation reconciliation which his blood has bought. By doing so, we participate in God’s cruciform, risen-from-the-ground mission to draw all peoples to himself.
We can do this in the actual places we live, with the actual ground beneath our feet. Find (and get to know) a local sustainable grower. Start a backyard garden plot this spring. Yes, recycle, reduce waste, and reuse what you can. Practice resurrection through composting.
May these ideas whet your appetite for participating with God in his gardening work in the world.