Complaining about work is the adult equivalent of college students complaining about mid-terms and finals. And let’s be real, we all have those days when work feels like a weight too heavy to carry and “Everybody’s working for the weekend” is our theme song.
We are wired for work. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a result of the fall. Challenges in work and struggles with identity around work were most assuredly a consequence of man’s rebellion against God’s created and careful order; however, work itself honors God and is a needed part of human flourishing.
In his pattern of the newly minted perfect world, God offered Adam and Eve significant freedom to do significant work on the fresh earth. There were animals to name and gardens to tame. Carl Linnaeus had nothing on them. Work was not a burden, but a particular privilege for those made uniquely in God’s image.
God blessed the first human couple by giving them the significant work known as the cultural mandate.
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground’.” (Genesis 1:28).
As one who lives in San Diego and frequents the world-renowned San Diego Zoo, I can tell you this is no small task. The San Diego Zoo employs 2,300 employees to care for their menagerie. God entrusted Adam and Eve with a task that was large enough for the intellectual, physical, and creative capacities he gave them. God wired us for work.
My teenaged children balk at having to do special projects around our home. As good parents, we force them to do so anyway. When the day is done, they almost always say, “Today was a good day. We worked hard and accomplished a lot.” Similarly, sometimes I catch my husband hanging out in the shed after we have organized its chaos. There is something so human and right about accomplishment after hard work. Yet you and I both know that work is not always a worshipful experience.
When Adam and Eve followed the lure of the liar and turned their back on God, work took a fall with them. In Genesis 3, when God explained the natural consequences of rebellion against His good order, he included work in his description of the curse.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, til you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19).
When we broke the natural order of things, unnatural discomfort and obstacles infected the experience of work. Gardening, which used to be glorious, became more grueling. Add to that the tensions and conflicts that come from co-workers, and you have a recipe for a long, hard work week.
As soon as we wrecked our work, God was already working to redeem us and thereby it. In the first act of mercy, God provided animal skins to cover the nakedness and shame of his people. After this merciful provision, God continued the long-unfolding work of redemption that culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
He who wore a crown of thorns also had hands blistered from the beautiful work of carpentry. As such, both Christ’s active and passive righteousness inform our view of work. Our work is not in vain when done Coram Dei (before the face of God). As those who have been made right with God, we are freed to work under His favor. We don’t work to secure it; we work freely because it has been secured.
One day, in the New Heavens and the New Earth, we will experience meaningful, nuanced work that fits the way we were wired by God. We will roll up our sleeves happily and without stress, without sin, without the haunting need to provide security or provision. For our Christ will be all of those things and we will see Him face to face.
God intended faithful furrows,
The product of purposed labor,
The contented crown of creation
Working out of His full favor.
Pushing against His protection,
We sought power and control.
Collapse and consequent curse
Thoroughly took a terrible toll.
Now the furrows fight back
And enemies plow our backs,
Bruised bodies, furrowed brows,
Heavy plows on tired tracks.
But the faithful, flawless Son
Gave His body for our flaws.
His beautiful back was furrowed
To secure redemption’s cause.
As the beloved, we labor in hope.
We dig furrows, He brings fruit.
We faithfully cultivate our place,
As branches fed by the root.
If the proverbial furrows are fighting back as you work this week, know that the work story is not over yet. If your eyes are stinging from the sweat dropping from your brow, know that one day, those eyes will behold the One who sanctifies our work with His life, death, and resurrection.
Keep your hand on the plow and your eyes on the Pioneer and Perfecter of your faith.
About the Author:
Aimee Joseph directed Women’s Ministries at Redeemer Church in Encinitas, CA for three years. She also works alongside her husband, G’Joe, who directs Campus Outreach San Diego. They love watching college students brought from lost to leaders through Christ in the church for the world. Parenting three growing boys keeps her busy; writing on her blog and studying the Word keep her sane. She has a passion to see women trained to love God and his Word.