I’m a sucker for a good simile. Especially ones that help me understand my faith. Statements like, “Jesus is like a [blank],” help us to understand various characteristics of his nature.
In fact, the Scriptures are full of names for God which all tell us a great deal about who He is. Yahweh means “Lord.” Elohim translates simply as “God.” El Shaddai is “God Almighty.” Then there are names like Jehovah Rapha, or “the Lord who heals,” and Jehovah Jireh, which is “the Lord who provides.”
All of these (and several other) names tell us who God is to His people. They are insights into His nature and His character.
Jesus used similes when teaching. He says things like, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field,” (Matthew 13:44) when explaining his ideas to his disciples.
Jesus is like topsoil
I’ve recently started reading Wendell Berry’s collection of essays in The Art of the Commonplace. I’ve only completed reading the first essay in the book, “A Native Hill.” Yet, I’m blown away by Berry’s ability to see the world around in him ways most of us simply overlook. And his ability to put words to it all is breathtakingly wonderful.
In this little snippet, technically, Berry is referring to the topsoil as being Christ-like. But as I read it, I couldn’t avoid the flip-side of that comparison in helping me understand something about the nature and character of Christ.
The most exemplary nature is that of topsoil. It is very Christ-like in its passivity and beneficence, and in the penetrating energy that issues out of its peaceableness. It increases by experience, by the passage of seasons over it, growth rising out of it and returning to it, not by ambition or aggressiveness. It is enriched by all things that die and enter into it. It keeps the past, not as history or as memory, but as richness, new possibility. Its fertility is always building up out of death into promise. Death is the bridge or the tunnel by which its past enters its future.
thoughts on growth from the topsoil
The idea that Jesus is our source of Life is not an abstract one to most Christians. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
But I’m fascinated with this picture of Jesus being the topsoil that we grow from. The visible part of the tree exists in the air above the soil. Our branches, our adorning leaves, and even our fruit are all out there in the world. We experience the wind, the sun, and the rain. However, the source of our nourishment comes from the invisible part of us rooted in the soil.
The rain brings us the water we need to grow. But it’s not through our outer branches and leaves that we capture it. Only when that water comes to us through our root system in the topsoil does it become the Living Water that gives us life.
Jesus is our source. Everything we are has come through Him and is rooted in His goodness.
thoughts on returning to the topsoil
It’s also not a new idea that we return to the dust. There a few spots in the Scriptures that remind us that we were formed from the dirt, and to the dirt we return. In fact, let that sink in for a minute. It’s not lost on me that God created Adam by grabbing a handful of topsoil.
The idea that we return to the dirt is cool. It’s like our visible, physical life may be over. But our existence is not done. We come back to Jesus, and continue to be a part of the richness He brings to the world.
It’s not like our life has ended. But everything we are becomes part of the great legacy that allows the Way of Life to continue for generations to come. Our lives not only return to a closer relationship with Christ, but we become be part of His eternal richness.
Our greatest legacy is through our eternal relationship with Christ.
thoughts on how we relate to the topsoil
Here’s the kicker. I’m not a farmer like Wendell Berry. So my experience with topsoil is limited by suburban life with big box stores and small yards. So reflecting on this passage in Berry’s essay got me thinking about how I relate to topsoil.
The few times I’ve needed some topsoil, I’ve gone to Lowe’s (or Home Depot) to get a bunch of it that was gathered by someone else and packaged into a plastic bag, making it easier for consumers like me to get some when we need it. I’ll get a bag and keep it in the garage until I need to use some. Maybe I’ll put a little in a pot with a plant I want to grow to make my home look and feel beautiful. Or maybe I’ll throw some on top of the flower bed along the fence, because we don’t take good enough care of the soil out there for it to actually provide the nutrition the plants need.
One time when I was a teenager, our lawn refused to grow in the sandy topsoil that covered our yard. So my stepdad got a truckload of topsoil dumped into our yard, and it was my job to rake it around to spread it nice and even in hopes that we could finally grow a beautiful lawn.
Don’t we do that with topsoil (Jesus)? We try to package it up into manageable containers so we can sprinkle some here, sprinkle some there, and just use it whenever we need a little bit of it in our life.
Jesus isn’t there for us to control and use just when we need a little “Jesus” to make our lives better. He’s our source. Everything we are is rooted in Him.
thoughts on the truth that exists regardless
Here’s the best part of this whole thing, at least in my opinion. It doesn’t matter how we try to manage the topsoil ourselves. And it doesn’t matter what we believe about the topsoil. The truth is that the tree doesn’t exist if it weren’t for the topsoil.
We are all rooted in the same topsoil, and it gives every one of us Life.
I find great peace and comfort and hope in this.
The topsoil isn’t going to leave me because I mistakenly thought that I was in control of my entire existence. It’s not going to stop nourishing me because I had some wrong ideas about its role in my life. When God tells us that He will never leave us or forsake us, it’s like the topsoil that will always be there for the tree.
Jesus is there, giving us Life. Even if we don’t honor it or deserve it. He loves us, His creation, more than we can ever truly know.
Lord, please help me not only to recognize but also honor our relationship. You give me Life. You help me to grow into everything that I am. I do not take that for granted. I look forward to the day when I return to you. But in the meantime, I hope my life is fruitful and life-giving to all those around me. Most of all, thank you for everything you are to me. Amen.