Seedtime and Horror
For the past decade or so, there has been a philosophical principle masquerading as the central point of Christianity and the M.O. for God’s blessings, and it has captivated a good number of Christians. This philosophy has infiltrated sermons, books and whole churches and is promoted as normative for the Christian life. Genesis 8:22 has served as a foundational verse:
As long as earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night,
will never cease
The idea is that our Christian life is about sowing seed to reap a harvest. God operates according to our sowing seed and reaping; this means a harvest of material blessings. So financial giving then becomes the indicator of our faith to make this happen.
Now, I have heard this principle applied to non-financial areas as well, but the thrust of it focuses on some kind of tangible reward. An entire theology and numerous ministries have been built on this one verse and concept. If you don’t believe me, do a Google search. Now the promoters of seedtime harvest ministries will say that it’s biblical. But it is an egregious distortion of the biblical text and the Christian faith. Here are three reasons why:
1) The context: Putting this verse in its context shows that this prosperity philosophy has nothing to do with sowing or reaping. In fact, it has nothing to do with our activity at all. The entire chapter is about God remembering Noah and his family. Then he gives a promise to Noah after the flood that he would no longer destroy all living creatures as he had done in the flood (vs 21). Seedtime and harvest is another way of saying seasons and the verse as well as the entire chapter is telling of God’s control over them. In other words, the passage is saying that the earth will always experience seasons. It has nothing to do with Noah’s activity but God’s promise.
2) The canon: It is also significant to note that Genesis is a narrative. It’s telling of what happened as God progressively revealed himself to humanity. We have to examine any verse or passage according to the whole: the whole of what is going on in the OT and how that relates to the NT. To say that seedtime and harvest is central to what is being played out imposes something on the biblical narrative that isn’t there. Rather, in context of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, His selection of a gathered people as a light to the nations, His provision for how these people would worship him through priestly activity, His rulership over them through selected kings and words spoken to them by the prophets, being ‘biblical’ points to this activity not sowing and reaping for a harvest.
3) The Christ: All of this in the Old Testament foreshadows Christ. As God makes promises and provisions, it is telling of the Messiah who will come and fulfill God’s promises made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Galatians 3:16). He is the one who perfectly fulfilled God’s requirements for perfection (Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:1-4) by fulfilling the offices of prophet, priest and king foreshadowed in the OT. The book of Hebrews sums this up nicely. Now promoters of this sowing will point to Jesus’ earthly ministry and his use of seed and harvest in His teaching. But what was Jesus doing? He was using metaphors that people of time understood because it was an agrarian society. His mentioning of seed and harvest were related to those who would put saving faith in him because that’s what they could relate to. Jesus was pointing to Himself because He is the central theme of scripture. Our sowing and reaping for blessings is not the central theme of Scripture. Seedtime and harvest puts a corrupt twist on Christian teaching and robs it of its central theme, which is what God does through his Son for fulfillment of promises.
Grace Not Karma
The sad reality is that the seedtime and harvest promoters have ignored the Biblical context, the passage’s placement in the canon, and the centrality of Christ. Even worse, the idea that God gives according to our “sowing” exchanges grace for karma that obligates God to respond according to our actions as if we have to earn favor. But it is His actions that have granted us favor; the undeserved merit called grace which the Father has poured out through His Son. God gives us something we could never earn and could never deserve through any amount of sowing. Being recipients of grace obligates us to worship, not through a karma exchange but according to the realization that what God gives is out of the goodness of His own character.
Unfortunately, seedtime and harvest is a prosperity philosophy that promotes delusions of grandeur or disillusionments of insufficient Christianity when sowing doesn’t work. It does go to what I said here of the kinds of teachers that Paul was addressing in his letter to Timothy: those who would distort the meaning of OT activity and infuse speculations and novelty into the Christian faith and turn it into something it was never intended to be.
This matters because how we read the text is how we think about God. And how we think about Him will motivate how we approach him. Seeing “seedtime and harvest” in the sense that it is often peddled is a guaranteed way to approach Him in a way that does not befit his holiness.