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.