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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The man

So what about God's word to the man?

17And to Adam he said,

"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
'You shall not eat of it,'
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:17-19)

The woman received the consequences of sin primarily in the area of relationships, in the area of her greatest strength, in the area in which she most reflects the image of God. The man receives the consequences of sin most deeply in his work. Adam was a farmer, a gardener, and he had been given the task by God of tilling and keeping the garden. He was a namer and a caretaker, a planter and tender. He was made by God in God's own image; just as God worked to create, Adam works to tend and maintain. It's what he does.

Ask a man who he is, and most often he'll answer by telling you what he does. Men identify ourselves by our work. I'm a teacher. I'm a pastor. I'm a farmer, a plumber, a carpenter. I supervise a crew. I design buildings. I own a store. I run a restaurant.

In this identity we find our greatest satisfactions. Bob Buford has written about the shift men need to make after midlife, turning their focus from success to significance. Usually this transition involves a refocusing, a change in how we value our work, rather than a decision to toss work out of the picture. How many men retire and then take on a part time (or even full-time) job doing something else? Those who try to stop working don't last long in retirement. We need something -- even if it's a volunteer position or a task like building bird feeders -- to keep us vital and alive. Men are about tasks. It's how we are created. And this is not a bad thing, it's the image of God.

Problem is, we are sinners living in a sinful world. So our focus on tasks, our being enmeshed in our work, gets distorted by sin. Just like the woman's focus on relationships is good, our focus on work is good. But sin gets into the mix and work becomes deadly.

Adam was a farmer, and when sin infected his work, the soil began to bring forth thorns and thistles. The frustration, the sense that our work is "chasing after the wind" to quote the writer of Ecclesiastes, comes because our work is frustrated by sin. This is not some mysterious infection, it just makes sense. If you supervise a crew as part of your work duties, take a blissful moment and imagine what it would be like if that crew was not a bunch of sinners. Think how delightful your supervision would be. If you are a plumber, think about how much easier your work would be if your clients, your suppliers, your coworkers, your mechanic, and all the rest were not sinners. No worries about being cheated. No worries about getting paid. No worries about people not valuing your labor.

See how it goes? Every job is frustrating and difficult -- instead of simply delightfully challenging -- because of the pervasiveness of sin infecting our work. Even those of us (and I count myself near the top of this list) who absolutely love our work find ourselves at times gnashing our teeth because of the fact that we have to deal with sinners. Worse yet, we ARE sinners. So we create all kinds of frustration for ourselves as well.

This reality, this pervasiveness of sin, leads to a sense of futility and meaninglessness at times. An old German man told me once that a German man's life looks like this:

Build a house.

In that darkly humorous statement lies a sense of futility and frustration. How do I get off the hamster wheel? If I win the rat race, I'm still a rat -- right? It's just chasing after the wind. In the end, how much difference will I make? Late at night men ask themselves these questions.

Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. On Ash Wednesday we hear these words and a greasy black cross is drawn on our foreheads. Your work, your effort, your earning, your significance -- it will all return to the dust from which you came. And if we are wise enough to hear the words, we recognize that only at the cross do we find significance. The One who died there knows my name, and He is King of kings and Lord of lords for all eternity. All my works blow away on the wind, but Jesus remains. I will remain with him.

One more things we need to address here. I've heard men joke about the opening lines of God's words to the man. "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife ..." See? they say. I knew I shouldn't listen to her. What's the problem with Adam listening to his wife? Trouble is this: He is passive in regard to what God has commanded, and he passively accepts Eve's error. This particular pattern is deadly and far-too-present in our world today. How many men sit through church because their wives want them to? How many men don't particularly care if their kids get a spiritual upbringing but it's important to their wives, so they go along with it. They are passive in regard to the things of God, and they passively accept what their wives ask of them. Not that their wives' desires are necessarily contrary to God's word, but if the man is obedient to her before he is obedient to God, how can he know what is right?

What the world so desperately needs today is men who are actively engaged in the things of God, actively weighing in and working hard on following what God has commanded them. We need men who are actively taking on spiritual leadership, spiritual authority, in submission to God and in order to love and serve their wives and children and communities.

God wants to redeem Adam's work. He wants to make it good and meaningful. But if Adam does the right work for the wrong reason -- in primary submission to Eve rather than in primary submission to God -- he will never experience the meaning, the fruitfulness, God desires for him.

1 comment:

  1. These last two posts on woman and man were incredible. I must admit that you are beginning to make me a believer (in the sense of Genesis being for us today). The concept of God dealing with Adam and Eve (and therefore us) in the specific areas where they are God-like was enlightening. Thanks much.