Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.
by Tom Beutel
It is that time of year again, at least here in Central Ohio, when the weather, though changeable, beckons us outdoors. It is time to “get out!” By this point most of the trees are displaying their full regalia of green; some. like the native Dogwoods, still sporting blossoms. While we do not boast woods filled with Bluebells, our roadsides, woods and trails are lined with wild Phlox in shades of purple, lavender and white. Mustard grows in fields that have not yet been plowed, though many have been and in some corn is already sprouting.
It is the time of year when while heading out on an errand one is tempted to just keep going, to find a place to hike or fish or just sit in the sun.
Of course, it is also a busy time. Cleaning up the garden beds is done (hopefully), but planting gardens, setting out plants, and mowing and trimming need to be done. It’s now or never.
Spring, of course, is a time of renewal, a time of “rebirth” and growth in the creation. Spring begins that season of “tending the garden,” which is our mandate given by God in the beginning. This work, like its essential counterpart of the Sabbath, it seems to me, is “made for man.”
Genesis 2:15 says that, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” God certainly did not need us to look after His creation, the creation which He had made out of nothing. But God, in His wisdom, put us in the garden to till it and keep it for our benefit.
It is hard to know where to begin to list the benefits of being in the creation, of spending time in or working in, the “garden” that God has made. For many of us, after a long, perhaps dreary winter, it is the sheer beauty of spring flowers and trees, the warmth of the sun, the gentle rains watering the earth, the chorus of birdsong that seem to be the main benefits of this garden. Amid the busy-ness of jobs and family, the strife which encircles the globe, the suffering of those who are oppressed, victimized, or suffering loss, the beauty and hope of the “garden” coming back to life is a tonic.
And it should be. We need reminding that the world, though rife with problems, still is God’s creation, still is beautiful, still is filled with new life and a promise of growth. For some, those in the middle of wars, disasters, or oppression, reality may be too grim to take this optimistic view. But, for the rest of us, it can be just what we need to be re-energized to carry on work to aid and relieve the distress of those who are suffering, to bring peace.
When we “get out” and work, hike or garden we not only see beauty and hope, but we see the very nature of God. In Romans 1:20 Paul reminds us that, “ Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” The beauty, majesty, and power in nature remind us that we are limited in who we are and what we can do. Only God has the ability to create and sustain life. All we do as humans, as good as it might be, is in a sense “second best.” Our best efforts are when we cooperate with God to “till and keep” the garden He put us in.
We are made in such a way – part of being made in the image of God, perhaps – that we find some degree of fulfillment in productive work. This God knows since He made us. And because of this He has given us work to do. While “tending the garden” probably refers to all of our creative participation in the world, at its most literal it can mean being in and working in nature – getting our hands dirty, watering and feeding plants, being part of the process to help things grow and thrive. Whether a single pot of petunias, a perennial border, a family vegetable garden, or a farm there is satisfaction in connecting with God through nature.
I could go on: nurturing and observing growth, producing food, capturing nature in a poem, photograph, or some other art form, and probably many other things I can’t think of are all benefits of being aware of and being part of the creation, especially during Spring and Summer.
One of my favorite Psalms which captures the beauty and majesty of God’s creation in the natural world is Psalm 65, particularly the last two verses:
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
So, get out! Get out into nature this Spring – enjoy it, relax in it, work in it. Look for the meadows that “clothe themselves with flocks,” and listen as the hills and valleys “shout and sing for joy.” Now that Winter is over, re-connect with nature, with God, and with that within ourselves that is fulfilled by working in and being in God’s creation.