Wheat, weeds, and sovereignty
Recent months have sent me through a reform, of sorts. I used to come to the Bible hungering and thirsting for what I could find about myself and apply to myself. I approached the Bible as if it were a book about me. But it is not. The Bible is a book about God, first. It contains truth and application for me, oh yes. But the first thing the Bible speaks of is not myself, but God. There is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God.1
So this time when I read through the kingdom parable of the wheat and the weeds, I went looking for God. Where is He in this story? What speaks to me of His character and nature? Instead of focusing in on the wheat vs. weeds and their significance, I looked at the characters in this parable. (Matthew 13:24-30)
The owner of the field strikes me as the god-figure. God sowing good seed in His kingdom field would not be out of character for Him at all. In fact, the book of James tells us that every good and perfect gift - including wisdom! - comes to us from our Father, God.
Additionally an enemy is spoken of in this story, one who molests by planting weeds among the wheat in the darkness of night. So typical of our adversary Satan; the resemblance is striking. And in his typical form, he does his deed and leaves. Our enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy - and might I add, abandon? It is only the Lord who promises to “never leave us, nor forsake us.”
The parable also mentions the owner’s servants which I believe are symbolic of the children of God, believers and followers of the gospel. You and me, sisters and brothers in Christ. I love what the text has to say about what they said. “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
If I may paraphrase: “God, aren’t you a good and loving god? How can there be evil and suffering in this world? Who is responsible? How can a good God allow bad things to happen? Can’t you do something, God?!”
While this question is a legitimate one, it teeters into the realm of assault - assault on the very character of God. The sovereign God of the universe called himself El Shaddai in order that we might be made aware of the omnipotence and omniscience he possesses. At the heart of this question, I believe, is partly the human desire to understand. But also it can be seen as partly a desire for justification of all the injustice we see in our world. God’s reply is swift and accurate, spoken by the owner of the field.
“An enemy did this,” he replied.
What God is doing here is not blame-shifting or passing the buck on the “weeds in his field”, the evils of the world. God is rightly declaring the origin of the evil of this world to be a direct result of the hands of Satan at work. The perpetuation of evil and wickedness throughout history is evidence of the continued schemes of the devil and the plan he has set in motion - to include countless human lives and souls, only to be counted and fully known at the day of harvest.
But the parable does not end here. The owner of the field doesn’t throw up his hands and pack it in for the season, leaving his field and good seed to choke. He doesn’t drag out the plow and till it all up - wheat, weeds, and what-not. But the servants had a mind to ask the field owner’s permission to go weed-eating, to pull out the weeds mixed in and amongst the wheat. We do much the same when our hearts long for a god who would rid this world of all ills and evils TODAY. (Not tomorrow or in His time, but now.) We do much the same when we cannot perceive of a world where a sovereign God can handle both the wheat and the weeds, weaving them into a perfect master plan. We, like the servants, ask for a pulling of the weeds.
The field owner says, “No, not yet.” God says to our question of injustice, of suffering, of His sovereignty, “No, not yet.” God has a beautiful and glorious plan for the wheat He planted in His field. Nothing can thwart that plan. He is sovereign enough to handle the weeds, to redeem their existence. For believers, everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost.2 In fact, He is all-sovereign enough to handle both the wheat and the weeds existing and growing at the same time.
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.”
What this parable reveals to me about God is the depth and height of His beautiful sovereignty. God isn’t bound or limited by the existence of evil “weeds” in the world. And while he isn’t responsible for them, He is a God of redemption. He is omnipotent and by His righteous right hand He will usher in a magnificent victory that preserves the wheat and punishes the weeds. And what knowledge of self can I glean from this story? May the vapor of my life produce wheat for the barnhouse of the Lord.
1 “Women of the Word”, by Jen Wilkins
2 “The Reason for God”, by Tim Keller