Our first born is named Peter. This means, among other things, that we’ve been given many copies of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books. I can’t count how many times I’ve read the tale of that fluffy, nosey rabbit sneaking into Farmer McGregor’s garden only to steal a carrot and barely escape with his life.
While Beatrix Potter can provide a nice bedtime story, she may not be the best source of moral and theological truth. I am preparing a series a teachings on “Soul Gardening” and tracing the theme of gardening throughout the Bible. I recently saw Peter Rabbit’s world in a whole new way that highlights the spiritual and moral confusion of our day.
Here’s what I mean. When we read Peter Rabbit’s exploits into Farmer McGregor’s garden, Potter has told the story in a way that makes that cute, fluffy little bunny the protagonist and Farmer McGregor ends up looking like a mean, nasty old man who enjoys picking on poor innocent bunnies.
Let’s face it: We don’t like having boundaries imposed on us and we don’t appreciate No Trespassing signs that come between us and our heart’s desires. We’d rather wag an angry finger at the killjoy putting up fences and scarecrows than question our own right to sneak around and taste forbidden fruit.
Let’s put Potter’s story and these characters next to another famous garden story: the Garden of Eden. In both stories we have a Master Gardener who has put much love and labor into cultivating the soil and bringing forth fruit of all kinds. In both stories we have unwanted intruders or resident thieves sneaking around and trying to take what is not theirs to have. In both stories we have the Master Gardener driving the thieves out of the garden for a good reason.
Interestingly, we have been taught from childhood to be afraid of Farmer McGregor because he is a mean old man who just wants to make life miserable for innocent little bunnies in search of food. Yet, if we were to look at the story with the most basic moral lenses we would have to admit that Farmer McGregor is merely protecting his precious garden from a pesky furry intruder who, like the villain of Scripture, “comes only to steal, kill and destroy” (John 10) and that those delicious looking carrots are as off limits as the forbidden fruit of Eden.
Now this silly little comparison makes a very serious observation. We live in a world where the moral boundaries have all but disappeared from common consciousness. Many have adopted the viewpoint of Beatrix Potter’s world where we act as though we’re all innocent as bunnies just chasing the proverbial carrot where ever it might be found. We don’t think twice about trespassing and crossing various lines if by doing so we can get a taste of the good life. Any talk of a rightful overlord of “the Garden” and moral boundaries to be enforced are twisted like Farmer McGregor’s character into some oppressive killjoy.
The prophet Isaiah once gave a hair raising warning to a society that began to call trespassing bunnies good and honest gardeners evil for upholding established boundaries.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).
In a culture that encourages people to “obey their thirst” and “just do it”, the Farmer McGregors will always be viewed as curmudgeons to those among us with the self-control of bunnies in heat, chasing every carrot and indulging every desire. But many of us still believe the Master Gardener has reasons for warning us against eating forbidden fruit, and that the Evil One often comes dressed as “an angel of light”, a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” or, in this case, a cute little bunny.
Finally, many people carry a mental picture of God similar to an angry man with shovel raised above his head chasing after little bunnies for a single trespass. This is a sad distortion of God as well as the average vegetable farmer. One of my most important roles as a pastor is helping people reframe their picture of God. God is not an angry gardener chasing bunnies with a hoe. He is a protective gardener trying to keep his beloved garden safe from destructive intruders and invasive weeds.
Remember: Your very life is God’s garden and he wants to grow something beautiful there. He’s the Good Gardener who laid down his life to keep drive the Evil One out. Now he’s give you the charge to do the same for others. So, here’s a new spin on John 10:10:
The rabbits and deer come only to steal vegetables, kill plants and destroy your garden. But the Good Gardener (Jesus) has come to cultivate a garden of abundance — the most delicious fruits and vegetables you’ve ever tasted.
So, next time you read your little ones to sleep with the tale of Peter Rabbit, you may want to add a little moral lesson on to the end of the story and show Farmer McGregor in a brighter light. You might ask the following questions:
1. Children, was it ok for Peter to go into Farmer McGregor’s garden without asking?
2. Is it ok to take take Farmer McGregor’s carrots without asking?
3. Why do you think Farmer McGregor is upset with Peter Rabbit?
4. Why do you think Farmer McGregor wants Peter to leave his garden?
Disclaimer: Halfway through this reflection my 2 and 4 year old came into my study, and proceeded to create havoc, rearrange everything, build towers with my books and distract me to no end. I blame any lack of coherence in this silly post on them. :)