A couple of weeks ago I had a sudden impulse to have a garden.
I bought some soil and some planters and the next you know I was in my garden gloves, watering basil, tomatoes and cucumbers in a raised garden bed made of an old bookshelf. The idea of having a garden sounds nice, but unless I learn to prune and water it, it’s going to die. If I want it to flourish, I will need to be intentionally present to it.
The beautiful thing about gardening is that it’s the primary image used in the Bible to describe what humans were created to do: to be gardeners of the world.
In the first pages of the Bible we’re introduced to God as a gardener: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). And like any gardener, God’s desire for His garden—His creation—was that it would flourish. In other words, when God created the world, He created it with the intention that it would be a place where goodness, truth and beauty would abound. The Hebrew word for this was shalom.
The surprising part of the story is that God did not choose to do this by Himself. God’s plan was for man and women to be co-gardeners with Him. Humans, made in the image and likeness of God, were created to join God in His creative work to care for the world in a special way.
All the pain, hurt, suffering and shame we’ve ever experienced is a result of our failure to be responsible gardeners of God’s creation.
The good news of God becoming a man and entering our world is not that we get a ticket to escape the world, but show us the way to be proper gardeners of the world.
Unfortunately, salvation is often misunderstood as a story of escaping this world because it is just too damaged and corrupt for any hope of redemption. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. See, God did not become flesh to get us out of the world, but so that we would be fully human, fully alive, in the world and for the world.
Because of Jesus, a new creation has penetrated our world.
One of the earliest Christian teachers captured this idea when he said that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” What he meant was that in Jesus, we find our true human fulfillment. This is why Jesus often talked about offering “abundant life” to his followers. It doesn’t mean that he gives us a lot of things but that he makes it possible for us to recover our human calling to be co-gardeners with God.
This has a lot of implications with how we view and inhabit our world. Christians are called to be the shapers and makers of culture. We’re called to be present, like a gardener is present to his garden, caring for our world, our city, our neighborhood in ways that reflect the ways of Jesus.
When we follow Jesus into the way of life he calls us to live, he will make us more human than we could ever be without him.
Following Jesus means that we learn to be present to people, places and things in every sphere of culture we find ourselves in for the sake of cultivating shalom.