The Goodness of Work
Work is good.
Let that sink in for just a moment. Yes, there are angry customers. Yes, there are mechanical breakdowns. Yes, there are miscommunications, unjust promotions, and blowout diapers.
But work is good.
As we continue in our series The God of Faith and Work, a recap of the basic storyline of the Bible will help. In simplest form, one can understand the story of the Bible in three “chapters,” or “acts”:
- In Genesis 1 and 2, God creates a perfect world.
- In Genesis 3, we mess the world up.
- In the rest of the Bible, God fixes everything.
It follows that if one can show something to have existed in Genesis 1 and 2, then whatever that thing is, is good.1
In Genesis 2:15 we see a direct description of human work: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep.” This simple statement establishes our framework for understanding work as a God-ordained calling. God created work, and it was part of the world before any flaw entered into the world. Within work are the “working” functions (such as cultivating and growing) and the “keeping” functions (protecting and guarding).2
There are at least two other indications of the existence of work before the fall of Genesis 3. Regarding human work, God offers another fundamental description in Genesis 1:26–29, where He commissions man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion as His image bearers. At the base of this image-bearing call is God’s own work of creation, which takes place in six days and culminates in a day of rest.
This establishes that work is and has always been part of God’s good plan for humanity. It is an essential activity of humanity. This remains the case even though God cursed the ground as a result of sin (Genesis 3:17–19). Work is more difficult than it would have been, but it is still a good and even gracious gift of God to us. Knowing this is liberating as we go through our days, alternating between feelings of productivity and futility.
Our hope increases when we consider that work will be a central feature of the New Heavens and the New Earth, and that in this setting work will be redeemed and free from the toil that characterizes work now. Remember, God created a perfect world, we messed it up, and one day it will all be fixed. That includes work. Our present experience of work is now mixed with joy and pain, but in the future it will be sheer joy as believers serve King Jesus, eternally in His presence.
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1 The first verse of Genesis 3 notes the presence of evil in the world in the form of a serpent, which we later learn is a manifestation of the Devil, an evil angel (Revelation 12:9; 20:2). While it is true that the Devil existed prior to the events of Genesis 3, Paul still affirms that sin and death were not in the world until Satan’s interaction with Adam (see Romans 5:12–21). Within the narrative framework of the Bible, evil is not in view until Genesis 3, the time at which evil came to bear on humans and, by extension, the entire creation (Romans 8:22).
2 See The Masculine Mandate by Richard D. Philips for more detail on this two-fold division of work.