God made us to work too
There are two main verses where God gives people his instructions for what to do in the world he has made:
“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)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)
I’ve taken four phrases from these verses that give an overview of what humanity are called to do. All of these overlap to some extent, and they share the same theme: as those made in God’s image, we are called to work too.
The Hebrew word used here is used later on in the Bible to describe what the priests did in the tabernacle, and later the temple (e.g. Numbers 3:7-8). The priests worked on behalf of the people of God – and in a similar way, humanity is to work on behalf of God. We are his stewards; or to put it another way, we “mediate” his rule to creation. God created the world, and we are to continue to work at it, develop it, find its full potential. We are to be creative, just as he is. This means everything from agriculture to architecture, from manufacturing to music. (Conveniently alliterative, but also all found in Genesis 4!)
We’re to preserve and protect creation – not destroying what is good, but making something better. We’re to pass things on to the next generation. Here we get hints of teaching, history, parenting. All good forms of work for God’s people to be involved with.
Fill the earth
The Garden of Eden was only the start. Genesis tells us that four rivers flowed out of Eden, watering the earth (Genesis 2:10-14), and God’s people are to do the same – spreading out from the garden to bless the rest of creation. This means having children (“Be fruitful and increase in number”), building cities, developing communities. It means exploration and discovery. It involves geographers, and sociologists, and people to build boats and bridges.
The last word sounds more negative than it should, like its neighbour “rule over”. The original word seems to have the idea of ruling over and taming the earth so that it benefits people. It started out with farming, but more generally it’s seen in bringing order out of chaos – taking the world and transforming it into Eden.
So if work is God’s good gift to us, why is it so frustrating? Next time we’ll look at the effects of the Fall on God’s call for us to work, and our experience of it.
(For further reading, try Maximum Life by Julian Hardyman, whose book contains a far more in depth look at this very topic.)