Faith and the farmer
    April 18 2016 by Cody Cunningham

    I grew up in rural Mississippi, an area rich in agriculture. My grandfather, a cattle farmer, lived across the road from my home, so I was raised knowing the smell of freshly cut hay and the sounds of cows mooing as my grandfather’s tractor motored towards the pasture.
     
    As I study about the intersection of faith and work, my mind often roams back to those rolling pastures in southern Mississippi, and I ask myself, “How would this impact all of the farmers at home?”
     
    This is an effort to answer that question. To practice his vocation in accordance with God’s righteous will, the farmer works as a servant of God, creation and his neighbors.
     

    The farmer serves God

    Throughout Scripture, God’s many acts reveal His character. His creativity is one of the first characteristics we see. All things that spring from the earth, whether a chicken or a stalk of corn, come from the sovereign act of God, and this indicates His ownership of all things. Therefore, the wise farmer seeks to bring all of his work under the lordship of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
     
    This truth even affects the farmer’s motivation in work. Many people labor tirelessly on homesteads to feed their families, while others toil to inherit wealth and prosperity. Scripture is clear that God’s ultimate purpose is His own glory. The farmer, then, must match God’s highest desire, having His glory as the fuel that powers all labor.
     
    You may think it’s odd to speak of God’s glory in relation to the mundane activities of agriculture. After all, does motivation ultimately affect the way you shovel out a horse’s stable or dig a posthole?
     
    It may be difficult to see an observable difference between the everyday practices of the Christian and non-believing farmers, but that is far from saying there is no difference at all.
     
    Motivation is huge in the Lord’s eyes. A farmer who labors for years, driven by the glory of God, is pleasing to God, even if his daily practices are only slightly different than an atheist farmer.
     
    King David exclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1).” God fashioned the universe so that from the slow-flowing brook to the soft hum of the horsefly, creation is united in singing the chorus of God’s glory. The farmer joins in by using the earth to display the glory that God has bound into its essence. For instance, God’s glory is displayed when a small pack of seeds produces a bounty of butternut squash. Therefore, there is an obligation to use all of God’s resources to display God’s glory, and this obligation influences how farmers steward the resources entrusted to them.
     

    The farmer serves creation

    Few vocations are as observably connected to creation as farming. The farmer literally experiences the curse that God first pronounced in Genesis 3:17b–18, working the soil to produce food and goods. As a result of intense labor, some farmers choose to use the land without consideration of its good.
     
    Wendell Berry explains in The Unsettling of America, “The standards of cheapness and convenience, which are irresistibly simplifying and therefore inevitably exploitive, have been substituted for the standards of health (of both people and land).”
     
    It is this “standard of cheapness and convenience,” as Berry puts it, that drives many American farming practices. Godly farmers must critically reflect on how Scripture informs their treatment of the land the Lord has given them.
     
    Dependence upon the land should drive the farmer to sustainable practices in food production. Though God has filled the earth with vast amounts of workable land, resources are not unlimited. Farming practices can do great harm if they are only a means to profit, not as a resource entrusted by God. This truth drives farmers to truly value their property, and consider shrewd uses for it. To state it another way, wise farming considers the long-term health of the land, seeking to unlock the life-giving potential of the land.
     
    Scripture bears out this truth. God made provisions for the welfare of the land, such as allowing fields to have a Sabbath rest every seven years (Leviticus 25:3–4). God graciously guards the land from being overworked.
     
    Wise care also extends to livestock. There is a temptation to view farm animals, such as cattle and chickens, as mere instruments of production, no different than a hammer. Whether used for food production or food itself, animals possess inherent worth.
     
    Proverbs 12 depicts the righteous man as caring for the life of animals, and Deuteronomy 25:4 forbids the muzzling of an ox while it treads wheat. God cares about the welfare of His creatures, whether they are headed for the slaughtering line or not.
     

    The farmer serves his neighbor

    We may be tempted to romanticize farming, viewing the farmer as a lone laborer providing food for himself and his family. While that may be partially true, farming practices have a wider impact, whether on customers or hired workers. Therefore, the godly farmer must consider how faith impacts his or her treatment of others.
     
    The guiding principle is love. After all, Jesus told His listeners the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The application to farming is simple, yet far-reaching. For instance, love for one’s customer will drive excellence in production quality, while also keeping the farmer from overcharging. Love for neighbor governs every decision, from crop selection to produce packaging.
     
    Love is not only for those with money in their pockets, though. God prescribes care and grace for those with nothing. Consider, for example, the gleaning laws of Leviticus 19. Business practices say this approach is unwise, costing potential profit. But the Lord says otherwise. The one blessed with plentiful harvest should act graciously toward those experiencing the difficulties of destitution.
     
    Love for neighbor need not be limited to the present neighbor, either. As one’s sin can have a profound impact on future generations, such as dysfunctional relationships or poor reputations, so can a farmer’s production methods affect those after him. For instance, overworking the land can lead to the desertification of large pieces of earth, which causes future generations to look elsewhere for food.
     

    Conclusion

    The modern-day farmer, like any other worker, must use godly wisdom to navigate the changing landscape. After all, technological advances constantly promise greater productivity. In addition, farmers must now compete in a globalized agricultural market, not just with the farm across town.
     
    Hopefully this article is a small step toward helping farmers see their work in light of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. And it is the servant-mindedness of Jesus that farmers must imitate. Though they may spend the majority of their work surrounded only by livestock and crops, farmers should view solitary labor as loving acts of service to God, His creation and His children.
     
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Cody Cunningham is the Faith & Work Intern at Chapel Hill Bible Church. He blogs periodically at codycunningham.com. This post first appeared at intersectproject.org)

    4/18/2016 4:30:31 PM by Cody Cunningham | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Faith, Farming, Vocation




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