Thursday, February 11, 2010


Genesis 2:15

Why do we so often think of paradise being a place where we don't have to work?

Maybe it's because so much of our work here and now is a "have to" -- we don't realize what a wonderful privilege it is to have meaningful work until our work is taken from us (we get laid off, fired, we retire, we get sick or disabled) and we are lost. Work is written into our bones and our souls -- it is part of the image of God that we bear.

But work (as we'll see later on in Genesis 3) has become a curse as well. "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go" says the bumper sticker. So we get bitter and twisted about work and we begin to imagine heaven as a perpetual vacation -- lounging on a cloud, living a self-indulgent life where no pleasure is off limits and it's all about me and what I want -- this becomes our idea of paradise. Fact of the matter is, after a few days (or hours, for the more intelligent and in-touch among us) such a self-oriented life would become torture. (I can hear some of you thinking, "Let me try it and see ...") We rarely acknowledge that it was our self-indulgence that got us into the state of "I owe, I owe ..." in the first place!

Why do we think paradise is a state of being without work? The garden of Eden includes a great deal of work, some of it probably pretty difficult physical labor. But work is part of God's good plan.

Imagine if you will an existence in which work was like this:

No futility. Work never has that sense of deep frustration meaning that there are unsolvable problems, unworkable solutions, and incompatible conflicts. There is always a way forward in tasks and in problem solving.

No drudgery. Every task is meaningful because it fits into a larger whole that has real purpose.
No boredom. Imagine work that was a constant challenge to your abilities, but you were also learning and growing into more effective, more fruitful ways of working all the time. Wouldn't that be fun?

No personality politics. Work would be a community effort without all the nit-picky trying to keep people happy around their pet agendas, their defensive strongholds, and their unpleasant personal habits. (Oh, and the same about yours, too, by the way!)

No moral quandaries. Work would never put you in a place where you had to ask if, at some deep level, you are compromising yourself either by the work you are required to do or the tasks you take on or the means by which you complete those tasks.

No shirking, hiding, avoiding, sluffing off. You would never find yourself on Facebook when you're supposed to be focused on work. You would never have to deal with the guilt of giving less than a day's work for a day's wage. Work would involve a perfect blend of effort and rest so that it was a joy to pour yourself into a task, knowing that there would be well-earned down time coming soon.

Do you start to see what work in the garden of Eden is supposed to be like? Certainly work would still involve a little bit of frustration. One of the good gifts of work is that it brings us to the end of ourselves and reminds us of our total dependence on God. That is a Good Thing. So it's okay for work to present a problem that we can't solve now and then, that requires us to rely on another and ask for help. But this kind of work sounds too good to be true -- because we are used to the accursed work that is mostly frustration and meaningless toil, what the author of Ecclesiastes called, "chasing after the wind."

No, in the dream of God for his good creation, work is a total gift. As we learn to live in a right relationship with God, we begin to rediscover work for what it is intended to be. I'm always impressed by the conversations I have with new Jesus-followers. One of the consistent questions they struggle with is the question of work -- what should I be doing? I sense a call to a different kind of work -- a meaningful, kingdom-of-God work. How do I start? What training do I need? How do I move toward this vision without creating a train wreck along the way? These are the questions of people who have crossed from dark into light, from death and despair and meaninglessness into abundant life. Jesus has called them to come and follow, and part of that following involves their effort. They come at this new work with a zeal and a passion and an energy that is exciting -- and contagious! It's enough to make you feel like you're in the garden of Eden. And you are.

1 comment:

  1. Sitting on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity never sounded very appealing.

    I agree, we were created for work. And with the politics of work removed from the equation, along with the assurance that our work is part of God's plan make it seem very promising indeed.

    I'm not sure what types of "work" we will do, but I remember (as a teen) wondering if God would put us in charge of another planet. Seemed to answer the question about why so many stars and galaxies and planets! No doubt whatever we do it will be inspiring and rewarded.

    Thanks again for your insight...