From the Ground Part 2: Bearing the Gardener’s Fruit

From the Ground Part 2: Bearing the Gardener’s Fruit

Last week we explored the biblical portrayal of God the gardener, who formed humans in his image to rule creation as he does; as a gardener. Jesus enacts this rule by dying on the cross and bringing new life up from the cursed ground, reconciling earth and heaven and calling us who follow him to do likewise.  


(De)Formed from the Ground

The rule over the ground that we were made for has been tragically deformed, however. We see examples of this all over Scripture, and it is not hard to see parallel examples repeated in the present.

God forms his people Israel and leads them to dwell in the land of Canaan. What we find is that the quality of the relationship God’s people have with the ground beneath their feet is an essential marker of their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God. This is portrayed in the prophetic oracles concerning Israel’s tenuous relationship with the land (e.g. Jeremiah 12:7-13, Ezekiel 33:28-29, Amos 9:5-15, Malachi 3:8-12), all of which recall the blessing of Deuteronomy 28:11 (echoing Genesis 1:28 “…God blessed them. And God said…”) and the curse of Deuteronomy 28:18 (echoing Genesis 3:17 “cursed is the ground because of you”). A fruitful ground, rather than one that is wasted away or only yields thorns, is a sign of God’s blessing for his people’s faithfulness. 

The ramifications of our deformed relationship with the ground is unfolding in the ongoing struggle of God’s people to respect and emulate God’s loving rule over his good creation. We see this deformation playing out in current, popular ways of relating to creation. In our postmodern iteration of sinful relationships with God’s creatures, both desecration on one side and deification on the other are false. Both are deceptions. 

To turn creation into a god (to deify it) is to lay a weight on it which it cannot bear. By our actions, habits, policies, or even our indifference, we reveal whether we consider the ground good or not, while in the Bible God says very clearly that it is. Both deification and desecration are ways of robbing creation, and the very ground itself, of its God-given dignity.

The key is to recognize our own deformation from the ground, confess it, and seek to be reformed into Christ’s creation-gardening image. Ask yourself: In your daily activities, habits, political persuasions, or even your inaction, how might you be inclined toward either idolizing aspects of creation or destroying aspects of creation? Only by being re-formed into Christ’s image can we overcome our present deformed relationship with the ground.


(Re)Formed In the Image of the Gardener King

Surveying John’s Gospel, we see the full representation of God’s gardening nature in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word that upholds the universe steps into the very creation he is tending, taking on flesh to become the Gardener King. It reveals the reality that caring for creation is a fundamental aspect of humanity, written into the very fabric of our call to imitate our creator. 

The Bible’s call to care for creation as Christ does is even more expansive, as God’s gardening of creation is more than tending soil, so our image-bearing of the Gardener King includes more than having a backyard garden. Tending creation is not an optional subplot of God’s mission to bear fruit for his glory; rather, it is foundational, formative, and necessary. 


Bearing the Gardener’s Fruit

The fruit Jesus wants us to bear is the same fruitfulness God originally called humanity to in Genesis 1:28. We are to cultivate all of creation as God does, from the literal ground up. But in our present cursed-yet-reconciled relationship with the ground, we can only “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. We must turn away, repent, from destructive or idolatrous practices and turn toward a more Christlike care of creation.

Each of us can discover the boundaries of our responsibilities to creation in the places we are (de)formed by. Then, being (re)formed into the Gardener’s image, we can play a crucial role to positively form our places by dying to ourselves to produce life-giving fruit for the good of our fellow God-creations. To use a term popularized by Wes Jackson, farmer, activist, and founder of The Land Institute in Salina, KS, we can do this by consulting the genius of our place.


The Genius of the Place

In Jackson’s book Consulting the Genius of the Place, he calls upon his readers to attend closely to the place in which they live in order to gain wisdom for how to live within its (God-given) ecological limits. 

King Solomon’s treasury of wisdom was, at least partly, gained through just this sort of attentive study of ecological embeddedness. Yet our Gardener King certainly surpasses Solomon in wisdom. Jesus is the very fount of wisdom and the firstborn over all creation. His masterful parables put this wisdom on full display, and we even have direct commands from our Gardener King to study his creation in order to glean his wisdom: “Look at the birds of the air…Consider the lilies of the field….”

If the ecological beauty depicted in Revelation 21-22 is any indication, these are commands we will have the pleasure of obeying for all eternity when our Gardener King consummates the renewal of all things which he has already inaugurated. 


Consider the Ground

I believe it would be wise to start practicing now. Consider the literal ground of the place you live. Obviously, this would be your home and the land it stands on, but also keep in mind your neighborhood streets, parks, schools, and other public places. Take inventory. 

What do you have that owes its existence to the ground? Your food, of course, but also the wood of your furniture, metals mined from the earth, the energy that powers your lights, appliances; even the materials used to manufacture plastics and other synthetic materials came from somewhere

Then expand your attention beyond your four walls. Christ Community’s mission is to influence our community and world for Jesus Christ. We cannot do this until we know and love our communities and world by paying attention to the actual places in which we, and our neighbors, live and move and have our being. This includes the health and integrity of the ground itself and all it supports. 

Thank God for the ground beneath your feet, then pay attention to ways he may be leading you to work with him as he forms you to bear fruit as a more faithful follower of the Gardener King.

From the Ground Part 1: God the Gardener

From the Ground Part 1: God the Gardener

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;”

Genesis 3:17

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’             

       Galatians 3:13 

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. 


Practice Resurrection

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.