On Gardening

Disclaimer: I’m no gardener. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I tried to keep a plant alive, and I certainly don’t own any myself. But I recently stumbled across an argument that suggested we, as Christians, should take part in gardening. It deserved a bit of a reflection.

As I was grading some students’ papers, I came across one (which happened to be a persuasive speech) that suggested that one tangible way to live out our creation mandate is to become gardeners. The author’s argument went something like this:

1. Mankind was created to cultivate the land. ‘Subduing’ in Genesis should best be understood in light of the language of cultivation (control for the sake of growth, rather than power).

2. Today, we rarely take the time to actually cultivate or grow natural things.

3. Caring for some plants will help us carefully consider God’s creative work. Even the shaping of our bodies (bending down, becoming sore, all for the sake of a pretty and healthy garden) can teach us much about God.

It is worth noting that the author allowed for the presence of children as a fulfillment of the creation mandate: that is, we are to raise up and cultivate nature with our lives, and certainly training up children counts for this moral requirement.

I’m not necessarily inspired to go buy a plant, but I seriously considered it. There’s something to this argument, I think, though maybe having a cat satisfies this particular mandate for me.

But here’s where I get hung up: what about other sorts of investment? If cultivating a plant is only good for you and the plant, what about spending that time investing in a brother or sister in Christ, or in a non-believer, or some other activity that clearly includes the growth of others? It seems clear that these sorts of activities are not only good, but possibly even better (generally speaking) than caring for a plant. We can’t take this argument too far, though, for then no one would care for the plants. Caring for plants and animals is a good thing, but not the highest good.

So would I recommend you buy a plant as some sort of spiritual discipline? I doubt it could hurt, but remember to let the gardening function as a reminder of God’s character. Likewise, don’t let the plant take over your ability to act towards others as God would have you act.

Image via Wikipedia.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/ Mackman

    It would be weird and wrong to suggest that gardening is the only way to fulfill God’s purpose for us. But it’s also wrong to suggest that gardening benefits only the gardener and the plants themselves.

    Such an argument fails to take into account that good gardening produces Beauty. And great gardening, the kind of gardening my dad does, that causes roses and irises and other flowers of dozens of colors and varieties to spring forth from the ground every year as if by magic… that produces the kind of garden that draws people from miles around to walk around our yard just to look and marvel at the Beauty of creation properly subjugated to man.

    A solitary plant may, indeed, benefit just the gardener. But a true garden benefits all who see it. It’s probably the most basic reminder of our mandate to be like God as creators (or at least caretakers) of Beauty.

  • http://about.me/dillieo Dillie-O

    I’ll nod at Mackman’s comments in full agreement and just add that when gardening includes crops, you can invest in your fellow brothers, as well as non-believers through the sharing of time, and food that it provides.

    Our gardens haven’t done too well the last few years, but it has provided for us, and friends that come love to learn about the various herbs, and some tricks my wife uses to grow them. We also have ducks, and while it isn’t gardening, the surplus of eggs has been a blessing to others in need.