Being God’s Beloved: Day 5: The Call to Work

Being God’s Beloved: Reflections on God’s Love.

Most everyone works. Many people work in the open labour market, earning a salary to provide for themselves and their families. Many work at home, without earning a salary, to raise children, care for a house and take care of our families. Many do volunteer work in the community, without remuneration, adding value to the lives of those who could not otherwise afford it. Many others are looking for work, doing piecework to make ends meet. And some have given up looking for work, perhaps living on welfare or relying on others who do work. Whether or not one works, the notion of work is central to our society.

The theme of work is central also to the creation story in Genesis. The writer of Genesis 2: 1-3 tells us that God had laboured – worked – in creating the heavens and the earth, and that by the end of the sixth day God needed a rest. God had invested time and energy and self in creation, and was – may we say it? – ‘tired’.

Yesterday we emphasised God’s activity as creative. But it is appropriate also to think of God’s activity not as a hobby, but as work. God had a ‘career’ for those first six days, as a creator, a kind of celestial construction worker. As with much of the early chapters in Genesis, this gives us a glimpse into God’s intentions for us, a model of human society – we are intended to work, in the same way that God worked. If God worked six out of seven days, should we not also work six out of seven days?

Working, in its various forms, is an essential aspect of society and of the individual human experience.

God’s working emanates from the overflowing of love. We saw that yesterday. The fullness of joy and love between Father, Son and Spirit cannot be contained and bursts forth in the tremendous work of creation. God does not work to earn a living – as it is, God works as an unpaid volunteer – rather, God works to express love.

There is something important in this for us, though many of us are not privileged to experience it. Work, intrinsically, is intended to be an expression of love. It is not just a means to an end, namely to earn money. It is supposed to have value and meaning in and of itself. In creating, God was productive. God expressed what was in the Godhead. God enacted love. God was creative. And in similar ways, our own work should be productive, self-expressive, loving and creative.

There is a saying – do you live to work or work to live?

Many people work to live. Work has no intrinsic meaning for them – it is a treadmill that we trundle just to earn a salary to survive. Sometimes this is because the job is so routine that there is no room for creativity or self-expression – one thinks of domestic work, cleaning someone’s home, doing the same thing, day in and day out. Sometimes the job involves doing a small fraction of a larger job, so that you’re focused on your small and seemingly trivial function, unable to see how your efforts contribute to a larger creation – one thinks of the factory line, where each person does just one activity, over and over. Sometimes the job is creative and diverse, but we define for ourselves our work as a means to an end – we choose to work only to earn a salary, to not regard the work as inherently meaningful.

But God lives to work. Indeed, God’s work is life, and God’s life is work. There is really no split between work and life, as there is for many of us. God’s creative efforts in the first chapters of Genesis have inherent meaning, are self-expressive and are filled with love. This kind of work is both means and end. There is joy and pleasure in the doing of the work itself; and it is purposeful and productive, making a difference after the work has been done.

This is the kind of work that God desires for us – work that gives life. We know this because just a few verses later, God hires Adam as the first (unpaid) employee in the first career. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” The NASB says, “to cultivate it and keep it”. The AV says, “to dress it and keep it”. The NLT says, “to tend and watch over it”.

Adam was a gardener. The first career was gardening. Noble, but humble beginnings.

It is clear from this verse, that God did expect Adam to work. Working – being productive, contributing to society, developing the world – is a part of God’s plan for us. God worked; God wants us to work. Working is a central activity of the divine and has intrinsic value. In other words, the act of working is good for the soul. That does not necessarily mean you have to earn a salary – there were no salaries in Genesis 1 and 2 – you could work as an unsalaried volunteer or a home maker. But whatever it looks like, working is something we should all be doing.

Adam’s work in the garden is described with various verbs: work, care, cultivate, keep, dress, tend and watch over. Such a variety of English words to translate those original two Hebrew words! The first word is abad, which ordinarily means “to serve”, and the second word, samar, means “‘to exercise great care over’, to the point, if necessary, of guarding… to protect”.[1] What do they have in common? What is the central element of God’s job description for Adam?

Adam was hired to love the garden.

The Garden of Eden was part of God’s creation – a special and central part of it. God called Adam to take special care of it, to show love to it, to protect it, grow it, nurture it, sustain it. Adam was to be the garden’s caretaker, investing in it the same love and devotion that God had when God created it.

It is somewhat like being hired to look after someone’s infant child. The mother bears that child for nine months, goes into labour to give birth to that child (labour is such an appropriate word to describe childbirth!), loves and cherishes that child as she raises the child to adulthood. When she hires someone to assist with the child’s care, she entrusts to that person a most precious responsibility – to care for her child with the same love and devotion that she herself does. Caring for that child cannot involve going through the motions, cannot be routine and pedestrian, cannot be something done just to earn a salary. It has to involve an investment of love – a wholehearted activity of caring, tending and watching over. This is what Adam was tasked to do with God’s garden.

This ought to be true for all jobs. Because it is intended by God to be true for all work. All work is an instance – a particular example of – Adam’s caring for the Garden of Eden. Whatever work it is that we do – packing shelves, teaching school children, working on the stock exchange, picking fruit – we should recognise that this is an opportunity for us to love the world, to honour God’s creation. In working, we walk in Adam’s footsteps, tending and caring for the garden.

Consider the idea that we need to redeem work – all of us as a society, but also each one of us as individuals – you and me. As much as human beings need salvation, so too does work need to be saved. It is needs to be rescued from sin and death, and brought back under the headship of Christ. Work has, for many people, become soulless, even soul destroying.

This is not God’s vision for us! Work is intended to be spiritual, edifying, sanctifying and nourishing.

Some Christians put this into practice by using the workplace as a vehicle to evangelise or by holding prayer meetings at work. This is a good thing – it is about giving witness to our faith in the workplace. But I think this misses the important point that we find in Genesis 1 and 2, which is that the work itself should be a faith-filled activity. It is not what we add to the work that will redeem it – holding prayer meetings at work or having your Bible on your desk is not what will redeem work.

Rather, it is how we do the work that redeems it. When we regard our work as a spiritual activity, not just a chore to be done; when we ask the Spirit to breathe into our work the love and power of God; when we express the best of what God has created us to be in our work ethic; when we express our deepest love, the love we feel for our spouse or our children; when we remember that our working is a shadow of God’s working in creation – then our work will be redeemed. It will become an expression of faith, it will be sanctified, it will bring joy to God and to the world. And through that, we too will find our faith growing.

In a word, we should learn to love working.

Meditation for the Day

Consider your own work, if you have one, and how you can learn to love doing it. Reflect on how your work will change if you accepted that God had tasked you, created you, for now, to do this work.

Prayer for the Day

Creator God, you have shown us the way of work – to work with joy and love. You have mandated humans to work in your commissioning of Adam and Eve. Nurture in me a greater love for my work. Help me to express joy and love in my work today.

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[1] Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, p. 171.

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