Tuesday, November 8, 2011

God the Gardener

So many parables in the Bible used to terrify me.  They always made me feel like I was just not measuring up, and that God was so disappointed...and very angry.  Many of the descriptions of God's discipline involve chopping off and burning up, and so no wonder the focus has mostly been "accept Jesus so God won't punish you".  Here's a few I remember reading as a child and feeling like it was a good thing Jesus saved me from this God who disliked people so much:

Weeds are gathered and burned. That's how it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everyone who does wrong or causes others to sin. Then he will throw them into a flaming furnace, where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain. (Matthew 13:40-42)

Maybe you think those branches were cut away, so that you could be put in their place. That's true enough. But they were cut away because they did not have faith, and you are where you are because you do have faith. So don't be proud, but be afraid. If God cut away those natural branches, couldn't he do the same to you? (Romans 11:19-21)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener...If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me. If you don't stay joined to me, you will be thrown away. You will be like dry branches that are gathered up and burned in a fire. (John 15:5-6)
(because I cringe even now reading how I will be thrown away, let me use the Young's Literal:  "if any one may not remain in me, he was cast forth without as the branch, and was withered, and they gather them, and cast to fire, and they are burned"...(and also to help with fear, don't forget what he says two verses later) "According as the Father did love me, I also loved you, remain in my love."

Because I now believe Jesus is the reflection of God, and his death is the symbol of God's suffering for us and in us and with us until we are transformed into his image, (instead of Jesus being punished instead of us, much like a loving sibling would take a beating from an abusive Father in place of another sibling) I see these parables in a whole different light.  If I wanted to convey to you that the pain you were going through was not a result of hate, but of love...what better image to use than a gardener?  Who is more patient and caring and gentle (and nonviolent) than a gardener?  Everything he does is for the benefit of his plants...to help them grow.  What gardener prunes his trees because he hates them?  Who would believe he picks the ripe grapes because he thinks they are so much more deserving than the unripe ones?  And when he burns his yard waste, he is just cleaning up.  Who would imagine him standing over the burning branches and saying "suffer, you piece of crap branches that didn't produce for me!"  But our shame over our failures, and our anger at those who hurt us, obscure our ideas about who God is.  When we can look at Jesus and say, "THAT is who God is", then we are able to see Him as the gentle gardener, weeding and pruning to make everything beautiful and productive.