Saturday, 7 July 2012

Adam was a gardener, not a farmer

I was listening this morning to Tim Keller’s excellent ‘Gospel in Life’ DVD which we are planning to use in our Benefice, when I was suddenly struck by an aside he was making about work.
One of the things he referred to was gardening — how we plan a garden, plant things and move things around. I’ve been carefully tending a garden for a decade now, and I can vouch that gardening involves design and development. In your mind you have an idea how it should be, and your time and energy goes into bringing about that concept literally ‘on the ground’. So what Keller was saying resonated with me very much.
But Keller had also been speaking about other areas of life, especially life in the city, such as culture and the arts, and it was this that prompted a sudden thought: “Adam was a gardener, not a farmer.”
In Genesis 2:8 we read, “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.” And this garden provides for the man’s needs: “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden ...’” (Gen 2:16).
John Walton points out this is very different from the function of gardens attached to pagan temples, which were there for the priests to produce food for the gods. In Eden, that situation is reversed.
But in any case, a garden is not a farm. Certainly there were biblical gardens that were more like allotments. We read in Deuteronomy 11:10 that in Egypt the people had vegetable gardens. But that same passage makes a contrast with the Promised Land, which drinks “rain from heave” (v11) and which is taken care of by God (v12), thus emphasizing the lack of labour required in tending “the garden of the Lord” (cf Gen 13:10).
Moreover, like the gardens of Middle Eastern kings, this one was planted with trees “that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Gen 2:9). In other words, it is a place of aesthetics as well as fruitfulness.
By contrast, the sweaty toil of agriculture is a result of the Fall: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19).
But if Adam was a gardener before he was a farmer, this has significant implications for us.
Not least, it means that human labour ought to be about more than either productivity or subsistence. The fallenness of the world means that work often is ‘labourious’. For many people, work will always be unrewarding. For others, if they manage subsistence for themselves and their families, they will be grateful.
But human work was not originally like that. It was not sweaty toil to feed oneself and one’s family but creative tending and caring for the ‘garden’ of God’s own creation with a view to developing it and taking it further (cf Gen 1:28).
And therefore that which is creative, and also that which is aesthetically satisfying, both have a place in human endeavour, including the world of work. We may be limited by sin in this regard, but we should not simply throw up our hands and give in to sin’s demands on our approach to the world.
Yes, we have been, as it were, driven out of the garden. But if I may use a cliche, must we accept that therefore the gardener has been driven out of us?
Too many evangelicals today have little concern for culture and art, looking down on ‘careerism’ and seeing ‘gospel work’ as the only work worth doing well. Others, who take an interest in these things, seem to have little by way of gospel to bring to bear on them. But the gospel surely ought to be seen as relevant in every area of life. And if the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, it is also true that he did this so that the image of God could be formed in us — an image that was first place in a garden God had planted, there to be a gardener, not a farmer.
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  1. John,
    What a refreshing look at our relationship with our Lord and Maker. How easy is it to fail to see the hand of God in all things? Individuals need not be condemned by the view that only evangelism is worthwhile. All those born of God will have their moment in time to do what may be the one thing God wants them to do.

  2. Hi Mr I.

    What I would say is that evangelizing, being the proclamation of the gospel - the declaration of the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light - is multi-faceted.