April 06, 2005

Why did God make weeds?

(or, The Problem of Weedvil)

My 8-year-old son asked me an interesting question the other day. After reading a bit in a gardening book his grandmother gave him, he asked, "Dad, why did God make weeds?" Now, maybe I read too much into things, but I take this to be his first foray into the area that Christian philosophers refer to as "the problem of evil."

He and I talk quite a bit about nature, biology, and astronomy (he's a bit precocious in the area of science), and I am always keen to point out the wonder and beauty and intricate design that can be found across the entire creation. He knows that God has superintended all these things and that nothing that exists is merely a product of "chance."

By the way, have you ever noticed how much the concept of evolution comes up in average TV programming? Even if you shepherd a child's viewing toward things like Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, and cartoons, you still have your hands full dealing with the fall-out. Of all the cultural battles I imagine needing to be waged, philosophically deconstructing a Pokemon episode just seemed to have escaped my todo list. But back to my point.

Given that my son knows that God is responsible for all things that exist, it's only natural that he wonder about the purpose of some of these things. And since he knows that God is good, he would expect those purposes to be "good" as well. And if some of these things seem to be worthless, unattractive, or bothersome, then you can expect some confusion to result. If weeds are just useless, ugly, pesky intrusions into our otherwise well-kempt lawns and gardens, then God's either gone asleep at the switch or He's playing games with us.

The tie-in to the problem of evil comes in thinking that if God is good and he's in control, then life should be a field of dreams. Any sickness, bad fortune, or natural disaster we encounter is like a weed in our Garden of Eden. This is often taken by non-believers to be a knock-down argument against the existence of God – well, the Christian God anyway – and a nasty run-in with some kudzu or poison ivy has left many a would-be Christian with hard feelings toward this "good" God.

So, how did I answer him? Well, I didn't give (or at least start with) the knee-jerk Christian response that "it's a fallen world and we just have to suffer these inconveniences." My first observation was that many weeds are actually quite beneficial. For example, dandelions and clover may be a nuisance for you, but for bees and horses they are far more interesting than your lawn. And many weeds are edible for humans as well; we just generally prefer other plants. In fact, I'd personally classify lima beans and Brussels sprouts as "weeds," but my wife is not impressed by my reasoning. The hardiness of weeds also makes them good at soil conservation on hostile terrain. And there are even known (and certainly undiscovered) medicinal properties in some of these plants.

The other observation was that what we call a "weed" is basically just a plant that is growing where you don't want it to grow. If daffodils or basil sprouted in the middle of my yard I'd be compelled to mow them down, and when grass intrudes into my garden I "weed" that out along with the rest of the invaders.

It strikes me that evil is analogous to weeds in roughly these same two ways.

In some sense evil can be seen as misplaced good. That is, good that has been exercised at the wrong time or in the wrong way. For example, being romantic with my wife is good, but being romantic with my neighbor's wife is not good. Or spending quality time with my son is good, but flying kites during school hours is not good. So in this way, evil is like the otherwise good plants that grow outside of their proscribed domain.

Not that God has made evil things to be of intrinsic worth, but evil can serve a "good" purpose in the grand scheme of things. It occurs to me that evil bears fruit in us and reveals a side of God that we might otherwise fail to discover. For example, how would we know anything of patience, mercy, longsuffering, and compassion if there were nothing to wait for, no one to forgive, nothing to suffer, and no one to be healed? Additionally, is it not true that one way to understand a thing is to identify everything that it is not? What better way to deter the will to rebel in eternity than to be exposed to the myriad failures of the best schemes of man and demons to make a kingdom apart from the reign of God? As Paul tells us, "all things work together for good to those who love God," and evil is certainly one of those things that is at work upon us.

God is the maker of good things, but the untamed will of the creation put these things into disarray. However, Scripture tells us that the garden will be weeded in the end. Even further, God will till and plant a new garden where all things will keep to their proper estate and have not the slightest appearance of weediness. The fearful thing is that it will only be sown with the seed of those who were planted by the Word and yielded a harvest. Here's praying that we are deeply rooted in the "good soil."

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At 6/24/2005 7:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks. There certainly is evil in the world, but so many forget to consider the ultimate value in it's existence.
Why not draw an analogy from the physical to the spiritual? We all understand that an athlete endures great pain, and often injury in the pursuit of physical strength, skill and stamina.
We often hear people complain about aches and pains or about hunger when they embark on an exercise/diet program. We can commiserate, but who out there curses God because they're getting in to shape?
The Bible promises us that suffering in this life is analogous to spiritual 'exercise' and results (eventually) in a stronger, healthier spirit. Not to mention the opportunities to glorify God in the experience.

At 9/20/2014 11:55 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

What a bunch of gibberish! You (Jeff) and the only commenter until now (Paul) still
didn't answer the question: Why?

The truthful answer you should have told your son is "I don't know".

Christians need to stop teaching what to think, and instead teach how to think.

Your son asked a very enlightened question and instead of encouraging him to pursue
the answer through scientific processes, you perform pseudo-religious gymnastics to
come up with a biblically-correct response (but not actually the answer).

The correct answer, by the way, is; god didn't create weeds as there is no evidence
- either biblically or scientifically - to suggest a god did...let alone that there
are any gods!


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