Our ‘I come to the garden alone’ theology

Jun 15, 2017 by

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The past century has seen a rise in popular gospel songs like “In the Garden,” sometimes known by its first line, “I Come to the Garden Alone.”

Written in 1912 by C. Austin Miles, it reflects a widely accepted view of God as one who is like on a date with us. God is all about making us happy, all about having a very special one-on-one relationship with each of us and responding to our every need.

“… He walks with me and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own,
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known.”

I am not saying there is not some truth in these words. But are we in danger of fostering a view of faith that makes it all about me?

For example, another gospel song declares, “On the Jericho Road, there is room for just two, no more and no less, just Jesus and you,” then goes on to promise, “Each burden he’ll bear, each sorrow he’ll share. There’s never a care when Jesus is there.”

Really? “Just Jesus and you?” And “never a care?”

How would that sound to a Syrian refugee or a famine victim in North Africa? Are those suffering multitudes not more likely to be the focus of God’s primary attention, and therefore deserving of a lot more our own?

So what if we turned things around, seeing everyone on the planet as created to give God their wholehearted attention rather than ourselves as being created to constantly receive attention from God?

Yet many of today’s best selling devotional books seem to be about Jesus speaking daily words of personal encouragement to each of his billions of followers. Contrast that with this sample of a classic daily devotional by John Baillie in 1949 called A Diary of Private Prayer:

“O God in heaven, who fashioned my limbs to serve you and to follow hard after you, with sorrow and contrition of heart I acknowledge before you my faults and failures of the day that is now past…

My failure to be true to my own accepted standards,
My self-deception in the face of temptation,
My choosing of the worse when I know the better,
O Lord, forgive.

My failure to apply to myself the standards of conduct I demand of others,
My blindness to the suffering of others and my slowness to be taught by my own,
My complacency toward wrongs that do not touch my own case and my over-sensitiveness to those that do.
My slowness to see the good in my fellows and to see the evil in myself…
O Lord, forgive.”

Or better yet, note how our Lord’s Prayer is one in which we join with all other believers in seeking God’s will and God’s way for our lives:

Our Father in heaven,
Holy be your name.
May your rule begin, your will be done,
right here on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our portion of the world’s bread,
and forgive us the debts we owe as a result of our wrongdoing,
as we forgive those who are indebted to us.

And lead us not into tests beyond our endurance,
but deliver everyone the world over from harm and evil.

For yours is the kingdom, the power and all the glory
forever and ever. Amen.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.

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  • Daniel Hoopert

    Must it be “either … or?” Can it be “both … and?” What is God’s primary concern so far as people are concerned? Does he care more for starving people than others? Is his concern primarily an economic concern? Certainly he cares for the destitute, the oppressed. But do we see that each of us is guilty of treason before God? We each have sinned. That sin is of utmost seriousness. If we address the sin problem of individual rebellion against God, we can reap benefits in other areas. This could take several paragraphs to develop, but briefly we can see changes that took place such as in England with the preaching of the Wesleys. Someone has commented that England was spared a blood bath by the preaching of the Wesleys (I would add that the Wesleys were also involved in making disciples through their work of “methodism”). I think the Scriptural basis for seeing major changes as a result of evangelism (and upright, Godly living on the part of believers) is found in Paul’s exhorting the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God. I suggest that those verses are a summary of Eph. 4:1 to the point where the teaching on the armor of God begins. The need to put on the full armor of God is because we are in a battle, a war, with spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms – spiritual forces that are seeking to destroy God’s creation in every area they can – in economics, in politics, in systems of thought. If we put on the full armor of God – living the faith we proclaim, and engage in evangelism, I believe we will push back these real forces that are seeking to destroy God’s creation.