Four Types of Soil: Knowing Yourself & Seeking God

In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus describes four types of soil on which seed falls, demonstrating how the word of God is received by people. It seems to me that I can relate to each type of soil in this parable. There have been times in my life when God spoke to me in one way or another, and I ignored Him. Other times, I hear the word and it excites and encourages me, but it remains shallow in my soul and has no lasting effect because I don’t make an effort to form a firm resolution each day to follow God. Still other times I hear God and acknowledge what He says, but do nothing. School, work, friends, family, and the thousand things I have to do all seem to squeeze it out. And yet I relate to the good soil, because I know that despite my own wretchedness the Lord’s mercy has conquered the hardness of my heart and made me pure, worthy to call him Father, for ‘God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.”1 This is comforting especially when recalling how Paul just before rebuked the ‘foolish Galatians!’2

Self-Knowledge & Magnanimity 

In this we must hope, yet we are called to be ever vigilant,3 because we can slip back into the other types of soil if we aren’t careful—and you likely still have a foot in more than one like I do. Jesus’ explanation of this parable aids us by identifying the sources of these pitfalls encountered by the different hearers of the Word. The first, those on the path, do not accept the Word because Satan immediately comes and takes it away. And so we see the enemy is the true Enemy, the devil. The second, the rocky soil, are swayed by tribulation or persecution—and so we see the enemy again as demons, or the actions of others, or natural disasters, illness, dryness in prayer, and other things beyond our control and understanding. The third, those choked by weeds, prove unfruitful because of the person’s gods they’ve made for themselves—wealth, security, health, school, one’s career, sex, drugs, popularity, ego, or anything else set up as more important than God. 

It seems to me as though with each type of soil we meet a less respectable man. The first at least had the sincerity to deny God firmly. The second accepts him, but later changes his mind. The third, however, never even denies God explicitly, but simply doesn’t care. In America, I think many of us, perhaps most of us, fall into this third category. Sloth is an aversion to one’s greatness, a refusal to become as great as God has made us to be, for He has called us to share in His own divinity.4 As St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and St. Athanasius all affirmed, God became man so that men could become gods. So what is holding us back? What are we afraid of? What am I clinging to as an anchor to the ground that is keeping me from being Heaven, from being magnanimous—which means to be ‘big-souled’. We need to take time for a daily examination of conscience, giving thanks for God’s gifts, acknowledging how we have responded to this love, and then begging His forgiveness and making a firm, practical, and concrete resolution to do better. It should be noted that with this type of soul the ‘seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up’; so this soil was already in the midst of weeds. We must rid our lives of bad habits and temptations and practise virtue and temperance, lest we push Christ to the edge of our life, and right out of it. As Mumford and Sons says in their song Thistles and Weeds: ‘plant your hope with good seeds / Don’t cover yourself with thistles and weeds.’ 

‘Courage, dear heart.’ 

Aslan (C. S. Lewis)

This daily examination should also alert us to the reality of war. The third type of soil is trapped by illusions of happiness in things that won’t fulfill us because nothing in this life can—for nothing here is enough, nothing here is perfect, and nothing here lasts forever. The second type of soil is closer to the source, for it suffers from evils brought about by Satan, the Fall, or those who do the Devil’s will. But the first type of soil shows us who the Enemy is: The Adversary, the former captain of heaven and bringer of light, once named Lucifer. When we succumb to sin, we in our pride and folly think we are doing it all on our own. We even think ourselves original. But whatever opposes God opposes Truth, and so is a lie—and therefore every sin is but an idea planted by Satan, the Father of Lies, which we foolishly accept and cultivate in our hearts. Thus when we sin, we do the will of the angel who opposed Heaven. We act like double-agents, betraying our beloved Savior King, who made us children of God who were once children of Satan. As Jesus said, ‘Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for his a liar and the father of lies.’5 We are all on a journey, and at our as yet unseen but most certain death we will come to one of two places, which we choose now, today. So C. S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce: ‘There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.’ 

Jesus said we must ‘hear the word and accept it and bear fruit,’ and we will bear it ‘thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.’6 This fruit is love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So we need to take time to pray in silence, listen to God through Scripture and the tradition of the Church and Her magisterium, and act on it through daily reflection and a resolution with God’s help. Be not afraid, ‘for with God anything will be impossible.’7 And our mighty Lord, friend to sinners and healer of the broken, says: ’These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’8

  1. Galatians 4:4-7. 
  2. Galatians 3:1. 
  3. Mark 13:32-37. 
  4. 2 Peter 1:4. 
  5. John 8:43-44. 
  6. Mark 4:20. 
  7. Luke 1:37. 
  8. John 16:33. 

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