The other day Martha and I had a day scheduled for rest, relaxation, and restoration. Our weekends are usually busy, so if we don’t intentionally take some time now and again, we get worn out. So we were anticipating a day as relaxing as one can be with a 2 month old. And … suddenly we needed to get our septic tanks pumped the next day, and spent the day digging the covers clean and excavating the insanely tenacious clay off our shoes, our shovels, and ourselves. It was a cruel irony, because we had just been talking through this devotional about… you guessed it, work.
So the questions — Why is work so hard? Why do we look forward so much to the weekend or to a vacation or to the end of the day? Why is work wearisome? — are all very fresh in our minds, as is the clay sticking to the underside of our fingernails. Some of you may have answered these questions by saying “people”…like your boss or coworker, but is that really the reason? Working alone is hard as well.
So we have to ask… is work itself a curse? Is it all just a product of the fall? Clay, septic systems, and all? We find our answer in the second chapter of Genesis.
“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
Is this chapter before or after the man and the woman disobeyed? Yep, it’s before. So, no. Work is not a curse. God made us to work and it was part of the “very good” before the curse. It can be fun, fulfilling, gratifying, communal, good experiences for family and friends to have together, and like I tell Lillie, “it builds character.”
I love the fact that God is characterized as a worker throughout Scripture. The Lord of the universe is not one to sit back on His throne as the deist would say and simply watch things happen, either gasping or applauding, but rather He is working all things for our good. (Romans 8:28)
Don’t you know that He has the ability to snap His fingers and dispel all evil, suffering, and sin? As the scripture put to song says, “He could have called ten thousand angels.” If He does not have that ability then He is not all-powerful and therefore not God, but rather a subject Himself: subject to circumstances and the whims of fallen men. But no. He is no bystander. This God of creation is working a redeemed people for His own possession. (Titus 2:11-14) This work has not only cost Him blood, sweat, and tears, but He paid for it with His own life.
This quote from Ken Hughes really struck me:
“We meet God the Creator as a worker in Genesis 1:1 – 2:2… The image of God in man means man is to be a worker. The way we work will reveal how much we have allowed the image of God to develop in us.”
Think about the fact that God made us to co-labor with Him. To take something and make it better, to take something in “the garden,” something He made and called “good” and make it better. This is the undeniable trait of God’s nature that nothings stays just good, but rather even good things are to be built upon and improved.
So Adam is given a command to continue what God started and then what happens? Well, you know. If you don’t know, read Genesis 3:1-15.
After those 15 verses, things start to change.
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
And 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;
thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By 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.”
What happened? We went from “very good” to a curse, pain, sweat, and dust.
I heard Tim Keller give this example:
Imagine a machine with a bunch of gears, all interlocking and churning together with ease to accomplish the purpose for which the machine was created. Now imagine one of the gears deciding on its own to move somewhere else; it wants to be higher or in a better position. Since that’s not the plan, when it moves not only is there no place for it, but it falls into the rest of the workings and the other gears grind it, crush it, and smoke belches from the machine. While the whole machine is sick, it’s particularly that gear that becomes mangled and deformed.
In case you didn’t catch it, we are that gear. We are the reason that the machine of creation is running amuck. Work is not a curse…but work is cursed, part of the mangled machinery. That’s why it’s hard. That’s why it seems futile sometimes. That’s why sometimes it’s not rewarding. Look at what Paul says about the results of the Fall.
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
We are laboring with labor pains, and work is part of that pain.
George Whitfield said speaking of nature’s curse:
“Haven't you ever noticed that when you come near the animals they growl at us, they bark at us, the birds screech at us and fly away? Do you know why? They know that we have a quarrel with their master.”
Think of that next time you are chased by the neighbor’s dog or a bird poops on your car. Remember that next time a squirrel barks at you when you get too close to its nest or a deer bolts at the sight of you, or an elusive armadillo digs up your entire yard despite the whole family being on watch around the clock with guns, security lights, and traps. Ok, this is hitting a little too close to home.
The whole creation is suffering through birth pains. Think of it the next time a hurricane or tornado rips through a city or a mudslide carries away a whole family. Recall this passage when fire or flood destroys livelihoods and lives themselves. This is not the way it should be. Cosmic rebellion and disobedience against our Maker have made the machine to run violently.
Do you hear the gears grinding? Can you feel it? And here’s a perfect example: you ladies work from this side of the house to that side of the house and when you go back…guess what…to dust you return. Martha and I are gone for weeks and months at a time and we leave the house clean as can be when we walk out the door, but guess what. It needs cleaning when we get back even if we ain’t there to mess it up! And think of this — Adam and Eve only got clothes after they sinned. That means laundry is a result of the fall. This is something I always knew in my heart, but only now have Scripture to back up.
In this fallen condition, the dirt wins. “To dust you shall return”…you work your whole life cleaning and tidying up and washing and mopping and sweeping and polishing and taking care of messes, preparing things and guess what…when you are eternally done with this life you know what you get?
6 feet of dirt piled on top of you.
And then your remains turn into a pile of it.
The dirt always wins.
Sin leads to decomposition, to corruption of all things, and it permeates everything man touches. Work is not a curse…but work is cursed. Solomon had it right - “And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing–like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud–frustrated, discouraged, and angry.” Ecclesiastes 5:16-17
Frustrated, discouraged, and angry. Ever met someone like that? Ever been that person?
“What a way to end a devotional,” you say. “I thought devotionals were supposed to be encouraging?” Well, as we worked through the clay to our septic tank, it encouraged us to know that in some way, the work we were doing had been tainted by the Fall. It was encouraging to remember that while it was God’s original intent to have us work, it was not part of his design to have that work be frustrating, futile, and painful. We’ll bring more to the table about work next time.
In the meantime, take note of the grinding of the gears, the snapping of the dogs, the hissing of the cats, the endless tearing up of the yard by the armadillos, the sweat of your brow. Know this is not the endgame. There is another in the background working on your behalf, Christian. Your work is being redeemed from the curse, and in the end, it will be completely redeemed from the curse. No more frustration. In the meantime, it's my turn on armadillo watch.