“The very first person who was created to reflect God’s glory to the world was called to be a gardener.”
Or so a wise man I know is fond of pointing out. I’ve reflected several times in the past on the value of vocation, but I find myself ruminating on it again tonight. However, that’s not the topic of this post. Rather, I want to offer some thoughts on a related tangent.
The reason we have such a hard time with the thought that God calls people to do things as earthy and simple as gardening is that we are, for all intents and purposes, material atheists. That is to say, we are deeply disturbed by the thought that God would have to do with the material world – with the dirty stuff of, well, dirt. I was reminded of this recently in an unexpected place. I heard someone present the Bible’s view of sex, highlighting the deep, covenantal significance of Adam and Eve’s sexual relationship as the first husband and wife. It was as good a theology of sex as I’ve heard, discussing its power and beauty as an enactment of the way people give themselves to each other in marriage.
What got me wasn’t any of that. Instead, it was one person’s response to it. “This is great!” he said. “You’re saying that sex doesn’t just have to be this physical thing, that we can invite God into it and make it something really spiritual and meaningful.”
Now, if you’re wondering, this was absolutely not what had been said. Sex was being held up as meaningful and significant, yes. As a good gift of God and an opportunity to demonstrate your marriage vows to your wife or husband. But none of this was offered as some mystical alternative approach to sex. It wasn’t as if these things became true by saying a prayer or reading some verses. Instead, they already are true. God made it that way. Sexuality, just like every part of our lives, is already spiritual (and physical too!)
Which brings me to my accusation of being “material atheists.” It’s not that we don’t believe in God or anything so crass. We certainly know He’s out there, or perhaps in our hearts… we just don’t think he has anything to do with the stuff of this world. It’s as if it is the bread in a Catholic mass – God doesn’t have anything to do with it until we say the magic words and turn it into something otherworldly (I realize Catholic brothers and sisters won’t appreciate the analogy – I apologize; take it in the spirit intended. Some of you do a much better job of recognizing God’s involvement in the world around us than most Protestants.) The same becomes true of sex, or work, or food, or conversation. We cannot believe that God is involved with them as they are.
Yet the fact is, eating and drinking and (I’m failing to think of a non-profane and pithy way to say “having sex,” but we’ll just go with that) and gardening are all spiritually-charged activities, one way or the other. We do not have to dedicate a bottle of whiskey or a paycheck to Satan to use it for evil. We simply have to use them in ways that aren’t in keeping with God’s will. In the same way, we don’t have to divorce the ordinary things of this world from their this-worldliness to use them for God’s glory. We simply need to use them as He intends, with thankful worship in our hearts to Him as their creator.
The way to make a flower garden “spiritual” is not to put little crosses between the petunias. It is simply to tend it well, the Holy Spirit in our hearts welling up within us to give praise to the garden’s Lord.