Of God and Gardening

Spring is on the way and I am starting to think about my garden again. This is still a steep learning curve. Until two years ago I had never gardened in my life, but suddenly I had a garden all of my own, and I wanted to make it both beautiful and productive.

The flowers I’ve grown have been lovely. The first year I planted some annuals – sweet peas, petunias and nicotiana – and some perennials – lilies, alstromeiria and polyanthus. Last year I grew snapdragons, which were colourful well into winter, and bright red salvias. Last autumn I planted violas and more polyanthus as well as some dianthus. They are coming on well, and I’m going to have a colourful display by the Spring.

I’ve had some spectacular successes – two summers and autumns in a row I’ve eaten home-grown runner beans three times a week. Last winter my onions (grown from seed) didn’t do much but I had a constant supply of parsnips and Brussels sprouts. This winter my onions (grown from sets) have been abundant, and the parsnips just keep coming, bigger than any I’ve ever seen in the shops, but my cauliflowers didn’t yield one edible plant. Encouraged by last year’s success with carrots, I planted twice as many and am still harvesting them. My tomato plants last year were spectacular, with tens of pounds of fruit. The sweetcorn I planted did ok, but I hadn’t realised it was going to take eight weeks for the seeds to start germinating. This year I will sow them much earlier and expect to get a bigger crop. I’ll forget the caulis and go back to growing Brussels sprouts.

Some of my runner beans became too large and stringy to eat, so I saved them for seed. This week I found them in the cupboard, and they set me thinking. Come February I shall get out my polytunnels and start sowing. I shall look at those bean seeds – too many for the available space – and begin to select the ones I want to plant.

And that’s what started me thinking. I’m not a determinist. I don’t believe we’re a collection of genes programmed to behave in ways beyond our conscious control. I’m not sure I’m totally an open theist either, although I’m part way there. Open theism suggests that the future is not predestined, or even foreknown by God, but that, since He gives us free will, He is open to us choosing any of a number of possibilities. A bit like me with my bean seeds. How well my beans crop next year will depend on which seeds I select. I’ll make the best choice I can based on how healthy the seeds appear, but the final crop will be somewhat different from what it would have been if I’d selected different seeds.

Perhaps determinism, predestination and open theism all forget that God is not subject to linear time. Richard Dawkins asserts that God cannot be omnipotent, because if He already foreknows what will happen, then He can’t change it. I think what all these theories forget is that God is eternal, and so is not trapped in linear time in the way that we are. He can both leave my choices totally open to my free will, and know what I will choose because even though to me that choice (and its consequences) remain in an unknown future, to God every moment of my life is eternally now.

So, just as with my runner beans, I can choose what I am going to sow. I can look at what grew in my past, good and bad, and select the seeds of my future. I can choose either to sow more of the same and allow my past to go on replicating itself in a kind of spiritual Groundhog Day where I can never escape the pain of my own bad choices and the trauma of what others have done to me. Or I can choose to select the good seeds – however small and insignificant they may seem by comparison, like a carrot seed compared to a runner bean seed – and propagate and nurture those things.

My future is not fixed and unalterable, neither by deterministic genes nor by a predestinationary God. God is not so threatened by my choices that He has to keep a tight rein of control on them. He promises to bless me with a future and a hope. I might sow a few bad seeds and take a few detours on the way there. But as soon as I decide to look at the blessings, rather than the traumas, in my past and sow from them into my future, I can map out for myself a future that radiates with promise and hope. It feels like a waste to throw some seeds into the bin. But if (like my cauliflowers ) they hold disappointment and unfruitfulness, it’s better to let them go and sow the things that will blossom and nourish me.

I have been betrayed, abused and let down. But I have also been blessed, nurtured and cherished. It’s up to me which of those I want to replicate into my future. I am choosing to consign some seeds to the bin and sow those things which will reap a harvest that can nourish me and those around me. God isn’t determining which I will do; He is leaving the future genuinely open to me, with real choices, not imaginary ones. It’s true that I don’t know what the future holds but I know the one who holds the future. But at the same time it’s also true that the future will be what I make it, and that the abundance and variety of the fruit I harvest in my life will depend on the seeds I choose to sow today.

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