Every fortnight people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life. They hope that you will be encouraged by it.
Anyone who knows anything about agriculture knows that, for those involved in it, the work can be both long and hard.
And it has always been that way, as those who can look back half a century will remember. I remember hard work then which few would dream of doing now.
When I was in my teens in the 1960’s, I helped at a small farm on Saturdays. At that time, after the Beeching Report, there was a massive contraction of our railway network and lots of old railway wagons were sold off - some were bought by farmers. My farmer friend bought a couple which were used as calf houses, but try to imagine cleaning these out after a few months! We just had to go in round the corners with a grape and manually remove the manure on to an ordinary flat trailer.
I also remember taking the manure out to the field and throwing it off the trailer in small heaps and then scattering it manually. Then there was the job of thinning turnips, going up drills on hands and knees to thin the young plants to about one every nine inches. These were a couple of farming jobs that I really did not like. It was hard work!
Of course, while today’s farmers may not do these jobs and most jobs are now mechanised, the fact that fewer people work on the land still means that the work is hard and the hours often long.
Solomon, who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, observed many aspects of life. In Chapter 1, verse 2, he comes to the conclusion that ‘everything is meaningless’. And in the next verse he specifically mentions work, asking, ‘What does a man gain from all his labour?’ Solomon then speaks of how everything goes ‘round and round’ - the sun in verse 5, the wind in verse 6 and water in verse 7 - and man’s labour is the same in a way: we get up, eat, drink, go to work, come home, sleep...and then do it all again. Round and round we go! But what’s the point, what is it all for? What is life all about?
There are those who would say that this life is all that there is and when we die there is nothing else, so we may as well ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ as best we can. Jesus told a parable about a man who took that view - you can read of him in Luke 12:19. But the Bible has a very different view of life. It begins with a Holy God who made all things. It also tells us of why this world is in such a state, with so much evil and sadness.
It is because we human beings are by nature sinful and we are in rebellion against our creator. So the world we live in is, in many ways, difficult, and we must toil and labour to live. But contrary to Solomon’s initial opinion in Ecclesiastes 1:2, the Bible tells us that this life is not meaningless and is not ALL that there is. Rather, to use the words of Jesus Himself, if we come to know Him as Saviour we can experience abundant life now, and then eternal life in the world to come – and that, to answer Solomon’s question, is the point.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Patterson is a former GP who was ordained for the ministry in 1990. He retired in 2013 after 19 years as Minister of Castledawson and Curran Presbyterian churches in South Derry. Having worked on farms during his student days, before coming a minister, as a hobby he now enjoys restoring vintage farm machinery.
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev. Kenny Hanna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 028 9753 1234.