Labor of Love: Man’s Relationship to Work – part 1

Exercising dominion at 3-years old

The most recent Truth Project lesson I watched at work was on labor and economics.  With an increasing number of people in the U.S. out of work and the very nature of work changing in our country (manufacturing to a knowledge economy; career stability over the long-term to changing jobs or careers often), it is worth reflecting on the nature of work and how we should approach work.

I think it is rare for people to enjoy what they do for a living.  Most people think of their work as a necessary evil – something they have to do for money in order to support themselves.  Perpetual complaining about Mondays and longing for Fridays reveal this attitude.  In the myth of Pandora’s Box, one of the evils unleashed upon the world is labor.  Should we view work as a curse on humanity?

To gain a proper view of work, we should look to see if work is part of ideal human existence.  Was there work prior to sin and death?  In Genesis 1, we learn that God Himself is a worker.  The acts of creation are presented in Scripture as work:  “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work (Genesis 2:2)”  Likewise, God calls mankind to work (ruling and having dominion over creation), and we see the first man working, tending the Garden (physical work) and categorizing/naming the animals (intellectual work).  Indeed, just as God is a creative worker, so has He endowed humanity with inventive powers to create and produce.  So work is not a curse, but part of the essence of God and humanity.

Why then is work often so frustrating, tedious, and unsatisfying?  Our experience of work is blemished because God cursed work as a punishment for sin (Genesis 3):

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I  commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;  through painful toil you will eat of it  all the days of your life.

18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

19 By the sweat of your brow  you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Since the fall, nature has resisted our efforts to subdue it (as anyone with a lawn or garden can attest!).  Thus work is frustrating because we often cannot achieve our goals in subduing creation for our benefit.

Yet in spite of the curse on work, productive, creative labor remains God’s ideal for humanity.  The fourth of the ten commandments, what is thought of as the Sabbath command to rest, also focuses on work:  “Six days you shall labor and do all your work…”  How we should approach work is also part of the moral vision of the New Testament:

5Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free (Ephesians 6:1-5).

If slaves should approach work this way, how much more should we who labor freely work wholeheartedly!  In Christ, labor takes on a whole new purpose:  we are not just working to make a living, but to do the will of God, achieving ends God cares about.  Through our work, we can beautify the earth, provide for not only our own needs but contribute to the welfare of humanity, and through our excess help care for the poor.  Viewing our work from the perspective of divine purpose, we can learn to replace “Oh man, it’s Monday, I’ve got to go to work today” with “Yeah, it’s Monday, I get to go back to work!”

At the bottom of Pandora’s box, after all its horrors had been unleashed, was hope.  As we struggle against futility to find joy and purpose in our work, we labor with the hope that in Christ we can “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).”

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5 comments on “Labor of Love: Man’s Relationship to Work – part 1

  1. Alamanach says:

    “Since the fall, nature has resisted our efforts to subdue it (as anyone with a lawn or garden can attest!). Thus work is frustrating because we often cannot achieve our goals in subduing creation for our benefit.”

    The subjects of our efforts would not cause toil if they gave no resistance. They would give no resistance if matter possessed no inertia. If matter could be moved as we wanted without effort, we would be able to work at the speed of thought, and we would have no sensation of toil.

    Inertia, literally, is what slows things down. Without inertia, I’m not sure that there would be any phenomenon of time, because every physical process could carry through to completion right away. Time, I think, is a material phenomenon.

    Hope is a virtue, but only when it is Christian hope; when we hope for God’s kingdom here on Earth. (A virtue is defined as that which cannot be twisted toward an evil end.) Without Christianity, hope is not a virtue, because humans can wish for all kinds of wicked, foolish, or unrealistic things.

    Now, Christianity is a religion with a strong orientation in regards to time. Jesus was a historical figure and the Bible records historical events. Christianity and Judaism are unique in this regard. Judaism found God in certain historical events, and it recorded those events in the Bible. Christianity does the same, but where Judaism looks to the past, Christianity completes this idea (as it does with so many other things in Judaism), and turns our focus to the future.

    So, time, hope, and work are all closely tied together.

    • Your comment about inertia raises some interesting questions about how natural law was affected by the fall. We know from passages like Romans 8 that nature has been affected by the fall and is also part of God’s plan of salvation. Does that then mean that the laws of physics were somehow altered by sin?

      I have no reason to think that the law of inertia, and the laws of motion in general, were not governing nature before the fall. The soil provided just as much resistance to motion then as it does now (and if Adam used a hoe he would have had to apply just as much force over a distance to do work!). Perhaps the difference lies in the consequences of our labor and experience it doing it.

      Nature resists not just our efforts to displace matter physically, but to bring order to it. I can physically displace all kinds of things with great ease, because their inertia is small, and not increase the order of the system. Planting seeds in the ground, for instance, is not toilsome work in itself. What makes gardening frustrating is weeds, pests, hard soil, etc.

      This makes me wonder, then, about the immutability of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The constant tendency of nature towards more disordered states certainly frustrates our attempts to order nature. Entropy is the physical cause of death and decay. Was the law of entropy established by God as part of the curse? The inevitability of returning to dust seems to suggest so.

      Anyways, I really appreciate the thoughtful comment. How did you find my blog?

      • Alamanach says:

        I was looking through random blogs (http://en.wordpress.com/next/) and yours came up.

        Yeah, I don’t know how the fall was managed either. There do seem to be a couple different physical laws, the introduction of any one of which could have had similar effects. They each have their problems, as you point out with inertia. The second law of thermodynamics is necessary for life; most physiological functions depend, at some point, on ions diffusing across cellular membranes in accordance with the second law. I don’t know a creature that could function without it. All interesting speculation, though.

  2. jackie bellard says:

    Amen! I think about when I worked at the Child Developement center while we were in Germany and I have to laugh. Though it was a hard job it was also so rewarding. Loving the children was the best part and taking care of them while their parents were at work for 10 hours was a blessing. Again though an intense job I loved it and God gave me a love for each child! I also laugh because we have this house that we rent that I know God blessed us with, but I found myself complaining about the upkeep of the yard. The owner had a lawn service and even recommended that we do to, but we figured how hard is it to cut the grass, right? Well not long after we moved in weeds OVERTOOK the yard, it was out of control!! I have since spent hours keeping the weeds out and God just reminded me that I am a Christian and that I represent Him, so if I need to WORK HARD, then so be it and do it to gloify Him! After that revelation, I do the WEED pulling with a different attitude, I do it for God. Though I sure do NOT like weeds!LOL! For the ladies just read Proverbs 31, it says it all. That helps me when I am tired of housework! God reminds me to do it for HIM!!!

    • Weeds are definitely a product of the fall: the battle against them is incessant. I’m glad your perspective on work is being transformed. It’s amazing how much God is maturing you!

      Jeremy

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