The Strength of a Seed

flowers aconites spring winter-3972851_1920 Pixabay Tim Hill copy
Tim Hill, Pixabay

The winter aconite is a ray of hope in the dark days of January, often flowering before the snowdrops come out. It’s easy to assume that these fragile short-lived flowers are produced by equally fragile plants, but often the reverse is true – especially when it comes to seeds. Aconite seeds need to sit in a cold damp place for several months before they can start to germinate. If you put me in a cold damp place over winter I would absolutely not flourish – in fact I would probably catch pneumonia!

A friend recently told me something I didn’t know about seeds, which her Father – who happens to be expert in tropical silviculture (forestry) – had passed on to her. I knew that some seeds need to lie in the soil for years before they can germinate, and others need to be exposed to fire, but I didn’t know that some could last longer than the trees themselves and still produce a seedling.

There is a league table of long-lived seeds that scientists have managed to coax into germinating. The winners so far are the narrow-leafed campion seeds that had been buried by squirrels in the Siberian permafrost over 30,000 years ago. The scientists who persuaded these seeds to grow didn’t just manage to produce little green shoots that died after a few days, but the plants matured and produced seeds of their own.

The Biblical link between seeds and spiritual growth is well-known: the parable of the sower being the most famous story. I’ve failed in the past to see this as a strong image. I know that seeds last a long time in the soil, and that if you dig and water a patch of earth the seeds that were hidden underground will burst into life – but I hadn’t seen past their tiny and seemingly fragile nature. My friend’s story of incredibly tough seeds made me go back to the Bible for a second look.

1 Peter 1:23 says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” For me, the 30,000 year-old campion plants help create a picture of what sort of longevity can be achieved with even a perishable seed – never mind an imperishable one. In 1 John 3:9 we read that “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them”. The word ‘remain’ takes on a new meaning when you think of those seeds hidden in a piece of fruit, buried by squirrels 38 metres below the frozen surface of Siberian soil. I suspect John had something more active in mind than a suspended state of animation: a steady germinating of faith in someone’s life, which is fed by learning, fellowship and the activity of the Holy Spirit. But this passage did start me thinking about what happens to that seed over different people’s lives.

The person who experiences something of God receives a gift which has the potential to germinate and lead to them following him wholeheartedly, resulting in a fuller life. As the parable of the sower tells in chapter 13 of Matthew, things can happen that snatch the seed away, kill it before it has finished germinating, or choke its growth. But what about the ones that get trampled, churned too deep into the earth to receive the warmth and light they need to grow? Those seeds don’t always die, but they can lie dormant, alive but inactive, until the earth is turned over. Or perhaps they’ve been snatched away by a squirrel and buried 38 metres below ground in a frozen burrow! The possibility of that experience, scrap of knowledge, or snatch of conversation resulting in a changed life may seem infinitesimally small, but it remains possible. The seed may be incredibly tough, and just waiting for a chance to grow.

The Gospel narrative plays on the fact that it took a long time for the disciples to understand the full implications of Jesus’ teaching – a germination process that took many of them three or more years. I don’t think it’s too much of stretch to draw out of the parable of the sower to include the observation that it can take a long time for people to work their way through various barriers, sticking points, phases of forgetfulness and so on. Finally they receive the encouragement, challenge, example, or whatever else it was they needed to start them down a path that ultimately leads to becoming a follower of Christ.

I want to be careful in how I let my knowledge of science inform how I interpret the Bible. If I’m adding new information that’s totally inconsistent with the mainstream of Biblical teaching, then call me out. But if science can enhance our understanding of the Bible, making its truth more vivid or easier for modern minds to understand – without adding to or taking away any of its truth – then I think we should take advantage of everything it has to offer.

Guest Post: The fractal God – It’s all the same to him

If you find something that has a pattern and you crank up the magnification and see the same pattern, you’ve found a fractal — an object that’s self-similar at different scales. Nature is full of them. Tree branches fork the same way when they are the size of trunks or the size of twigs. Rivers split Continue reading

Fatherhood and Suffering

© Ruth Bancewicz

Jesus used parables to demonstrate how God reveals something of himself in nature. For example God is compared to a shepherd, his word is like seed, and beautiful flowers in a field are an example of God’s lavish provision. (Alister McGrath, The Open Secret)

But any attempt to experience God by enjoying the beauty of the world will quickly founder unless the issue of suffering is addressed. Much suffering is caused by humans exercising their freewill in selfish ways, but at times death and disease seem to come through ‘natural causes’. The god of the Enlightenment, conceived by well-to-do men in their carefully tended estates, was a distant (deistic) creator of a good world. This philosophy fell apart as people became more aware of suffering and natural disasters occurring around the world. How could a good god allow such monstrous things?

What about the Christian understanding of God? If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why do we suffer so much? I won’t address the ins and outs of Christian understandings of God’s good creation and the fall. The upshot, though, is that creation is a cracked mirror, reflecting only part of God’s glory. It has been suggested to me that because creation is somehow fallen, natural beauty is not an effective way to God – but I’d challenge that for the following reason.

Jesus often compares God to a father. But no dad is perfect, and some people are unfortunate enough to experience very bad parenting. Somehow the existence of terrible fathers didn’t stop Jesus using fatherhood as an analogy for God. Why?

I think our flawed human experience only makes Jesus’ illustration more effective. We know what is expected of good dads. At times we see glimpses of perfection, and we want more. Rather than shying away from using fatherhood as an analogy for fear of misinterpretation, Jesus knew that our best parenting moments shine out as an illustration of God’s love for us.

On that basis I think that nature, while flawed, can at times be an effective illustration of God’s own power, perfection and beauty.