The major narrative arc of the Bible consists of four acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.
Creation refers to the original, good design of God where he constructed the universe to be the theater of his glory.
The Fall was when sin entered the world and God’s designed was twisted and marred. Mankind gets separated from God.
Redemption comes in the form of Jesus dying in our place for our sins and rising from the grave conquering our enemies of Satan, sin, and death and reconciling us to God.
Consummation is the summing up of all things in Christ and the renewal of the original goodness of creation.
One of the things that I spent a long time wondering about was where work fits into that picture. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just don’t feel like working. Work seems like an intrusion of my life, an unfortunate inconvenience. At the same time you always hear people talking about the American Dream and the merits of hard work and discipline.
So how should we understand work? Where does it fit into God’s plan?
To answer that question we need to go back to the beginning, back to Creation, to see if we can find any clues to point us in the right direction.
One of the first places that I ever noticed that work has always been a a plan of God for humanity was in Genesis 2:15. The first two chapters of Genesis are complementary accounts that lay out the doctrine of Creation in great detail, and chapter two focuses especially on the creation of mankind. In verses 7-8, God creates the first man, our first father Adam, as well as the garden he would inhabit. Then in verse 15 we read that: “The LORD God took the man an put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”
So we see that from the very beginning, God’s design for human beings was to be workers. Work isn’t something bad that we have to deal with because of the fall, work is something good that we get to participate in according to God’s good design in creation.
But it goes much deeper than that.
The most important verse on work in Genesis 2 isn’t verse 15, it’s actually verse 2:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
In other words, not only did God create work for humans to do, God’s act of creation was itself “work.”
This means that the goodness of work doesn’t find it’s deepest roots in Creation, but rather in the nature and character of God. God included the giving of work to the man in his plan of Creation because God himself is a worker. The pattern of work-work-work-work-work-work-rest is a good rhythm because it’s the rhythm God uses.
We can learn more about the kind of worker that God is by going back a step further and reading about the “work” that verse two describes.
The Work of Genesis 1
The first point that should be obvious about the “work” of God in Genesis 1 is that it is inherently creative. The chapter starts out: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, emphasis mine).
This means as Christians we should be supportive of the use of creativity as it is a testimony to the goodness of our creator God.
This is why Christians throughout history have (rightly) celebrated the arts and fields of technology and development. Our God is creative and so we celebrate creativity.
The next point is that God’s creative work is in part to provide great benefit to others, it is a generous work. Just consider these verses that occur right after God created the first humans:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.
In these verses God clearly lays out how much of the created world is there to benefit the human race. God didn’t just create something to please and fulfill himself, he was generous enough to create something that would please and fulfill others.
The ideal for our work is for it to be like God’s: creative, generous, and useful.
The goal is not simply to make a living, but to leave the world a better place than you found it. To do the emotional labor of generously pouring forth your creative energy so that the fruit of your labor might be useful to your fellow man.
Wok Becomes Toil: The Fall
Genesis 3 is the great catastrophic turn of the Bible. God’s good creation is marred by human sin in what becomes ominously known as “the Fall.”
In Genesis 3 the good creation of God becomes subject to evil and death.
As a result you also have “the curse” that God places upon his tarnished creation. God punishes the serpent, the woman, and the man, who were all complicit in sin.
Here is what is said to the man:
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Adam had been given the work of a gardener, a cultivator of the ground. Now the ground was going to work against him.
Work was no longer just work, now labor and toil would follow along as well.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re just spinning your wheel going nowhere in your career, that’s the curse. If you’ve ever been frustrated that something hasn’t been working like it should, that’s the curse.
The curse isn’t a good part of God’s creation and it won’t endure for eternity. Our job now as Christians is the tough job of doing good work despite the presence of toil.
Work is good.
In our present age it is often mixed in with the undesirable nuisance of toil, but toil is worth enduring for the sake of work.
Work produces good in the world.
Work makes the world a better place.
Work is at it’s best when it is modeled after the work of God: creative, generous, and useful.
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