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.