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Of wheat and weeds

Our theology is limited. We are not God. The Bible does not fully explain the origin of evil. Its focus is on our responsibility, especially when we act as if we are God. Evil was not planted by God, and we will never fully understand it.

Of wheat and weeds

Don’t ever do this. A year after planting a new lawn, I was frustrated by the weeds. I took directional spraying Roundup to them. Yes, the resulting polka-dotted lawn was worse. We think we know what to do with weeds. Weeds are frustrating in our yards and in our world.

‘An enemy did this’
Jesus talked about the master who sowed good seed in his field. When the plants spouted and formed heads, the weeds became obvious by their lack of fruit. Jesus’ story about weeds used to be called “the wheat and the tares” (check out “darnel”). 

The weeds prompted servants to ask a major theological question. “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where did the weeds come from?” (Matt. 13:27). To this question the master only answers, “An enemy did this” (13:28).

The interpretation given in Matthew 13:37-43 tells us that this enemy is the devil, but little else about this enemy. There are weeds. There is an enemy at work in this world. We often want to know more and say more than Jesus said.

Knowledge 
From the beginning we have sought to understand good and evil. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was there as a testimony that we are not God. Although all of this creation was given over to our care and rule, it was God’s and not ours. But we decided that the fruit looked good, grabbed and ate. We thought we could be the judge. We knew enough to decide.

When called to account, the man blames the woman and hints it is ultimately God’s fault. The woman blames that mysterious serpent. We blame others and deny our responsibility.

The serpent
That serpent has occasioned considerable speculation. Karl Barth, when asked about the historicity of the serpent’s speaking, said, “I do not know if the serpent spoke. What is important is what he said.” The serpent said we could be like God, knowing good and evil. Answering the question of “who is God?” is the fundamental choice of life.

What about that serpent? The serpent probably reflects mythological accounts among Israel’s Mesopotamian and Egyptian neighbors, but without the polytheistic and dualistic theology. Yes, we want to know more. 

I challenged students that if they found a Biblical explanation of the origin of the devil in Scripture I would give them an immediate “A” for the course. A few came back with Ezekiel 28 where it speaks of one in Eden, a guardian cherub, who due to violence and pride was expelled and thrown to the earth. Then I would have them read the context. This is about the king of Tyre’s rule and destruction, not Satan’s, although it might reflect other mythological stories.

Others referenced Revelation 12 about the great war in heaven between Michael and the dragon. “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (12:9). No, this hurling down is due to the mission of Jesus, like in Luke 10:18.

Much Christian mythology about the devil is from nonbiblical Jewish traditions that are later reflected in the Islamic Koran. There Satan is thrown from heaven for refusing to bow down before Adam.

Limited theology
Our theology is limited. We are not God. The Bible does not fully explain the origin of evil. Its focus is on our responsibility, especially when we act as if we are God. Evil was not planted by God, and we will never fully understand it.

Like Job’s theologian “friends,” we often say too much. They defended God by attacking Job as having occasioned this punishment, suggesting God was teaching him. We try to explain evil to defend God.

In John 9 Jesus’ disciples want an explanation of why a man was born blind. Jesus’ answer is to show God’s healing work. Do not blame. Bless.

God is good and sows only good seed. There is an enemy that sows weeds. God is about growing wheat. The implications of this for the servants in the midst of wheat and weeds are eye-opening. We will explore that next month. 

About the Author
Of wheat and weeds

Tom Wolthuis, Columnist

Rev. Tom Wolthuis is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church.

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