To Believe and To Suffer in Seedtime and Harvest
Farming is becoming romantic again. People are interested in where their food comes from. They want to know who grew it or raised it and how did they go about it. People love evocative stories about clean living farmers growing unprocessed food for idealistic shoppers at the supermarket.
But for all of the urban nostalgia for farming, the reality is that it’s still a tough business. Farmers have to live on hope in the future, yet anticipate a lot of suffering along the way.
In a dry spring or a wet fall, through mid-summer hailstorms and late summer frosts, the farmer plants his seed in the ground with the hope of a harvest. Season after season, the farmer keeps believing and suffering through “seedtime and harvest” (Gen 8:22).
Pisteuein and Pascein
Christians are a lot like farmers in this way. They live by faith in the unseen, while accepting the suffering of the unknown. The difference between Christians and farmers is that Christians are given both faith and suffering. Paul told the Philippian church (Phil 1:29), that they had this two-fold gift, “to believe” (pisteuein) and “to suffer” (pascein). So the Christian’s believing and suffering have a God-given design. I know many farmers whose hope for the future is based on how much money they spend on equipment and fertilizer. Their suffering is viewed as capriciously based upon luck. Most farmers don’t see their lives as gifts in any sense.
When the Christian believes, they recognize that to overcome their natural inclination to disbelief is nothing short of a miracle. Christian’s are like the troubled father of the demon possessed son who had a hard time believing in Jesus, yet confessed, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). As Samuel Rutherford put it, “To believe is a miracle. For a sinner to believe is two miracles.”
For people who confess that God is sovereign and salvation is all of grace the idea that saving faith is a gift is not too difficult. What can be hard to take is the idea that suffering is a gift too. Yet this is where it helps to notice the details of Philippians 1:29. Paul said, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” The gift of suffering is never pointless. God does not make suffering a nihilistic agony. What is the greatest angst that many people feel when they suffer? It’s that they can’t figure out why they suffer.
By contrast, Christians understand their suffering is purposeful not futile. It is “to suffer for his sake.” That gift is tied up in our union with Christ. Our sufferings are actually sharing in Christ’s sufferings (Phil 3:10). We aren’t suffering alone. It is not like the farmer standing in his hailed-out field feeling suicidal because there is no point to it all. The Christian feels the suffering keenly, but they view the suffering as one more season in the calendar of their heavenly journey.
The Family Heirloom
As the godly writer with the strange name, Horatius Bonar argues in his book, Night of Weeping, suffering is the family badge. Like a family crest or a family tartan, suffering is the heirloom that marks us out at God’s own (Heb 12:7-8; Rom 8:17). He puts it this way:
It is a solemn thought. Flesh and blood shrink from it. We look around to see if there be no way of escaping, and ask if it must be so?… It cheers us under trial to remember that this is the Father's seal set upon His true-born sons. Oh! how it lightens the load to think that it is really the pledge of our divine adoption.
The Organic Connection
So “to suffer for his sake” is not very romantic, but it shows the deep bond Christians have to their Saviour. Farmers don’t have that unless they’re Christians. Farmers face “seedtime and harvest” yet can miss the most important lesson which Jesus taught long ago, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24).
The Christian life might not be romantic or nostalgic but its real. Our organic connection to Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection is better than all of the hoped for clean eating and living that hopeless shoppers pursue.