By Greg Forster: part four of a series.
Adam was not only a gardener; he was a farmer. He was called to bring the world under cultivation not only to make it beautiful but to make it fruitful.
In this, Adam was like God. In many parables, Jesus represents God as the owner or manager of a farm or other agricultural venture such as a vineyard. God hires the hands, God sows the seeds, God evaluates the crops, God even rents out the land to tenant farmers. And so on, and on, parable after parable.
And it’s not just the parables. Psalm 65 says God plants grain and waters the earth, and it overflows with bounty. A number of OT verses describe Israel as God’s vineyard.
What difference does it make to our work if we imagine God as a farmer?
1) The images of God as shepherd and doctor emphasize relational knowledge and care. The shepherd knows and cares for the sheep, the doctor knows and cares for his patients.
The farmer or vinedresser knows the earth and its fruits. This is not personal or relational because the earth has no mind or will – not even the limited reflections of these things we find in animals. It is knowledge of, and care for, things that are “things” in the full sense of that word, i.e. fully impersonal.
But they are not lifeless things. While farmers do know about inert objects like soil, their chief concern is growth, i.e. life. And because the life that is their central concern is impersonal – plant life – their knowledge is knowledge of life as such.
To know your flock of sheep or your patients is to know about these or those particular lives. But one stalk of wheat is just like another. So to know about the growth (life) of your wheat is to know the growth (life) of wheat in itself.
God knows life. He knows growth. He knows how to cultivate growth.
2) God, like most farmers, is a no-nonsense kind of person. With the image of God as shepherd I emphasized that God has all practical knowledge; he knows how to change a tire as well as he knows the Pythagorean Theorem. God as farmer makes me think of God as “practical” in another sense; he’s task-oriented and he doesn’t put up with frivolous or irresponsible distractions.
To the unjust, God as farmer is downright terrifying. His winnowing fork is in his hands, and he will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. The wicked tenants are massacred. I find that even the Parable of the Sower, which I cover in week 1 of my introductory small group class on Making Sense of the Bible, consistently makes people nervous.
Even on a lesser scale than that, though, God is very no-nonsense. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the workers who complain to the boss that others were paid the same as them for less work are presumably God’s people. They’re workers in God’s field, and they’re not cast out in the end. But neither does God deal very gently with them. He addresses one of them as “friend” but then says: “Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”
3) A farmer is no-nonsense not only with people but also with the earth itself. To plow a field is to shamelessly tear the earth to shreds. The farmer chops down trees, pulls up weeds, puts up buildings, and in a thousand other ways manipulates nature for his own ends.
But “his own ends” does not necessarily mean selfish ends. The farmer may will God’s ends. And a good farmer will understand the integrity of nature. He or she manipulates nature shamelessly, but not arbitrarily.
And so, in the end, a good farm comes to feel more natural rather than less.
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