Work – God’s Gift for Survival
So far in this short series of reflections on the theology of work, we have seen God’s gift of Creativity (Melaka) as we are made in the image and likeness of the Creator God. We have also seen his gift of Purpose as he involves us in his care for each other and for creation (Avoda). This fourth study looks at the impact on work of God’s punishment for sin in Genesis 3.
It is alarming how many people in the world (including many Christians) behave as if work is God’s punishment for sin, forced labour, something we do because we have to, but not something we do out of choice. We have already seen very clearly that work pre-dates sin as part of God’s "very good" creation, however there is no doubt that work changes after our sin and estrangement from God.
What you may not have noticed is that in Eden everything needed for Adam and Eve and any number of their offspring to survive was freely given - cultivation needed but never toil. Work was only and always something which both brought pleasure and amazingly gave pleasure to the Creator.
In Genesis 3:17-19, after cursing both the serpent and the woman, God then turns to curse not the man but the earth, and specifically the earth as a source of food. And now survival comes into the work equation… Adam is told that “by painful toil and by the sweat of his brow” he will be able to find enough food to survive until he will eventually return to the ground himself.
This is punishment for sin. But amazingly it is not the punishment that Eve and Adam deserve - remember Paul tells us that the wages of sin are death, and Adam had been told that if he ate the fruit he would surely die. Instead the gracious Lord God does not exercise immediate sentence. He removes Adam and Eve from Eden where they could eat of the tree of life and so bind themselves into endless existence separated from God; he also kills innocent animals to make clothes to cover Adam and Eve’s newly discovered shame; and in His grace, he leaves humanity to survive by working the land - although that work will be painful and tiring.
Work, after the fall, is no longer all about creativity or responsibility or worship (though by the Lord’s grace we may still find these present), work is now about survival. But it is still a gift of the Lord’s grace to help his beloved humanity survive in a world blemished and made imperfect by our sin.
This is great to think about at the start of the year. Whatever work we have before us may give us moments of creativity and may allow us to exercise responsibility, but in fact when neither of those are present and all we get from our work is our monthly pay packet - then we still have cause to worship the Lord God for this - it is his gift for our survival!