No one overtly taught me about the origins of work. It was more of an assumed theology, ideas inferred from other biblical teaching or even popular culture.
I don’t know about you, but I always had this image of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, laying in the lush grass next to a flowing stream, maybe scrolling through their Facebook feeds and binge-watching their favorite TV series while casually naming the new animals God just created during the episode breaks. After all, what else was there to do? It was paradise. An eternal vacation, right?
These extra-biblical assumptions led what I like to call “Warner Brothers Theology.”
Back when cartoons were mostly confined to Saturday mornings, classic Warner Brothers characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and The Roadrunner ruled the airwaves. On occasion, when one of the storylines led to a character’s untimely demise (usually poor Wylie E. Coyote), their white-robed, see-through “spirit” would ascend to the sky wearing a halo, lounging on a cloud, and playing a harp.
This imagery stuck.
If God originally created man to hang out and basically do nothing, and then when we die, our spirits are going to float up to heaven and return to hanging out and basically doing nothing, then this work thing we do here on earth is an anomaly. This day job all of us have been forced into, that so many of us struggle with, tolerate, groan about, and count down the days until we can retire from, that must be a result of something temporary and bad.
A recent Gallup poll revealed 85% of people hate their jobs. Everybody’s working for the weekend. Therefore, work must be a byproduct of the Fall. Work must have come about when sin came into the world. When Adam and Eve ate the apple, we got stuck with going to work every day (thanks a lot guys!) No one ever taught me this, but it was logically deduced.
So if that’s not really the case, what’s the truth? What does the full narrative of Scripture really tell us about our work? Here are a few things that just might blow your mind:
In the beginning there was work. Genesis 2:15 says that God placed man in the Garden to “work it and keep it.” You don’t have to be a brilliant theologian to note the timing here. We are just in Genesis chapter 2. The whole tree, and the serpent, and the apple, and the fall of man? That doesn’t happen until chapter 3! We experience our work through the horrible after effects of sin, but the work itself is not our punishment. Work is actually part of God’s original design for mankind!
When we work, we reflect God’s image. The opening chapters of Genesis reveal to us a God who works (2:2). They also reveal something key about you and me: we were created in God’s image (1:26). The Latin phrase isImago Dei, the “Image of God.” Western culture likes to think it has reversed these roles, but it’s not true. We didn’t make God, God made us. Mankind is unique among all of Creation. We are carriers of the DNA of God Almighty! And God is a working God!
When we work, we partner with God. Have you ever wondered why God just created a Garden? I would think the Creator of the Universe would have been a pretty good city planner. Why didn’t he make roads, and cities, and culture, and skyscrapers? Because His intent all along was to partner with us. Our mandate as image bearers is to subdue and have dominion over God’s creation (Gen. 1:28). We bring together the raw materials, form, reform, develop, and grow them. When we go to work each day, we partner with the God of the universe as vice-regents, as makers of culture and caretakers of humanity.
From the simplest jobs to the most complex, whether you’re a brain surgeon or you sweep floors at a local fast food restaurant, your work is part of God’s original design, a reflection of His image stamped on your life, and a divine partnership with His ongoing work in the world.
I love the way Martin Luther, father of the Prodestant Reformation summed it up: “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.” We weren’t created to sit on clouds and play harps all day. We were made to dream, and serve, and cultivate, and add value to other people and the world around us.
How would it change the way you approached your job if you saw it like that?