What are some words that describe how you feel about your work? Fulfillment? … Frustration? … Denial?
During these early fall weeks at Woodland we’re thinking together about work—it’s goodness, problems, redemption and goal. This is work in its broadest sense—not (necessarily) our jobs or what we do for a paycheck, but the organizing, fashioning, creating and playing we do in the world. If you’re a homemaker, you work (probably harder than anybody). If you’re retired or a student or a child or unemployed or disabled, you still work.
We start our thinking by going to Genesis 1 and thinking about God’s work. The immediate problem in this opening chapter of the Bible is that God’s creation is formless and void. In response, God works. He addresses formlessness by creating categories of heaven and earth, light and darkness, sky above and waters (then dry land) below, and day and night. Then, he fills the void with the products of His work—plants, ocean life, critters. Then, as His crowning work, God does something surprising: He creates someone with whom He will share His work.
Since the focus of Genesis doesn’t switch to man’s doings until Genesis 2.4, it’s instructive to focus on God’s work in 1.26-2.3 as the pattern for our own. Here’s some things God does in His work:
God makes image-bearers and give them work (:26-27). Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … And let them have dominion. Old Testament commentator Keil Delitsch tells us that Ancient kings set up images of themselves at the borders of their territory. God is doing something like that here. He’s placing His stamp on the world by creating someone who shares many of His attributes, and then He’s giving humankind authority in His world. It’s like God is saying, My image-bearers will show the borders of my rule. The whole earth!
Chapter 2 of Genesis recasts the creation story from the vantage-point of humankind. In verse 15, we learn more about mankind’s work, The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. These are important words. “Work” has about it the idea of progress through cultivation. “Keep” involves tending and protecting through conversation. Importantly, both of these ideas have about them the idea of physical, bodily work. But importantly, they both came to be used later in the Old Testament of the worship of God. Alan Ross remarks, “Whatever activity that man was to engage in in the garden … it was described as spiritual service to the LORD.”
God instructs mankind to flourish through work (:28) … bear fruit … be many … fill the earth. This is the Cultural Mandate. God’s work in multiplying His creation is to be carried out by His image-bearers. This includes making babies, but also every kind of work.
What do you want for Westboro and Rib Lake? This is the kind of question I discussed recently with the editor of our local paper. My answer: we at Woodland want Westboro and Rib Lake to flourish! We want jobs, strong families, healthy businesses, devoted public servants. We want our little library in Westboro to stay open. We even care about the bar that sells pretty good burgers. Of course, real flourishing doesn’t happen without the Gospel. (That part didn’t get printed, but we’ll try again next time.) Asking ourselves where our local places most need to experience human flourishing and where God has uniquely positioned us in our local churches to address these needs is all about the Cultural Mandate we’re to carry out.
God provides means to live through work (:29-30). Behold! I have given you every green plant, which sows seed, on the earth and every tree, which sows fruit tree in it, to eat (my translation). While it blows by us in the English, it’s clear in the original that creation itself has created life in it. Plants have the stuff of plant life to allow them to reproduce after their kind. Same thing with apple trees. We’re reading an early description of genetics here—and long before the discovery of DNA. God’s message is that all this creation will meet the needs of His image-bearers, if they steward it properly. Here is an ecological message early in the Bible!
God makes good stuff in His work! (:31) … And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. Not just “good,” but “very good.” From God’s judgment at His reflection of His work, we know that God doesn’t just care about “spiritual” things (like going to church and personal quiet times), but about His physical world.
For us, this means that if you’re an electrician, you need to love circuits and wires! If you cut hair, you need to love introducing beauty into the world! If you’re a logger, you need to care about the proper way to do things and the health of the land! There’s real goodness in the stuff of work, because God made it (and us!) and approves of His good creation.
Finally, God takes satisfaction in His work (2.1-3) … God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. God didn’t rest because He was tired, but because He was finished. And, as His image-bearers, we’re designed to enter into His Shalom—this picture of completion, satisfaction, well-being and fulness.
Here’s some takeaways from our reflection on God’s work in Genesis 1.26-2.3:
My work (in and of itself) matters to God. Sometimes in churches the idea is floated that God puts us in jobs only to share the Gospel. Of course, God places us in various situations to talk about the work of Christ! But, God also cares about our work in His creation for its own sake. This means that if I’m a student, God cares about my preparation. If I’m a line-worker in a factory, God cares about my punctuality and efficiency—and the value I add to the world through the profitability of my company, even if I’m a temporary worker!
My work is the way God cares for others. “God milks the cows through him whose vocation it is,” Martin Luther would say, in his day. God can work directly, but He typically works through people. This means that, if I’m milking cows, for instance, God is really feeding people through me. This also means that I ought to respect the work God is doing through others. The checker at the grocery store isn’t a vending machine. And, perhaps, I ought to put away my cell phone in line. Ask her about her day, when she gets off. Ask him his opinion of some product. God is working through others, whether they know Him or not.
My work can be done well or badly. Genesis 2.16 will place limits around the work of our first parents: they’re to eat from the tree of life, not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Not all activity is work that honors God.
And here, we arrive at the tension we feel when we consider the goodness of work, and our work in particular. Something has gone terribly wrong. Something has disturbed that pure, pristine picture of work we read about in Genesis 1 when we consider God’s intention for our work in imitation of His own. That’s our business for next week.
But, the picture we receive at creation shows us where we’ve come from. And, it gives us the right place to start in thinking about our work.
Work matters, because God Himself works!
This week we welcome to new small groups to our adult ministries at Woodland. Glad you could join us, Marschke/Petersen and Petersen/Everson groups! But, regardless of where you are in reading this, do find someone with whom you can think about the goodness of work. And, consider these questions:
What words did you use to describe how you feel about your work?
How does knowing that God Himself works change the way you think about your own work?
What specific ways does God serve His creation through you and your work? (How many can you list?)
How does your perception of work need to change, now that you’ve considered God’s work in Genesis 1.26-2.3?
Thinking of your involvement in your church family, what is some work that yet needs to be done in your community? (Where does your community most need to see human flourishing? Where is your church family uniquely positioned to address these needs?)