Work Before the Fall (Genesis 2)

Some people hate their jobs. A very privileged few love them. I suppose I’m somewhere in-between: someone who enjoys his job a lot of the time, but who heartily dislikes the disappointment, stress and frustration that it throws up from time to time. I reckon quite a few people are in that category, yet an awful lot more are in the first, job-hating category. But did you know? Work is a good, Godly thing.

I say that because work predates the Fall. It makes its first appearance very early on in the Bible, in Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Work is a noble, God-appointed task. The original job was to take care of the planet God has given us, and only later did work diversify to encompass all the things we do now to earn a living. Man was a gardener before he was a farmer, a builder, a priest or even a Direct Marketing Manager!

Similarly, in the beginning work was a good and pleasurable thing. We see no hint of any pain or toil in Adam’s work in Genesis 2. In fact, it seems mainly to have consisted of fruit-picking and naming animals. Doesn’t sound too bad! I love the fact that the Eden story provides powerful support for a favourite saying of mine, from John Muir (a pioneering trail-builder and preservationist in Yosemite National Park in the late 19th– and early 20th-century):

“Man needs beauty as well as bread.”

But work is hard now. It causes us pain, and we often have to work very hard for miserly rewards. This is because workplace stress is one of the symptoms of the Fall, part of humanity’s punishment for disobeying God (Genesis 3:17-19). For Adam that meant that he would have to work hard to grow food in uncooperative soil, constantly battling ‘thorns and thistles’. For us it can mean anything from aggravating colleagues, to sub-par sales to the threat of redundancy.

Sadly, this is now just a fact of life, and one which none of us can really complain about to God with any justification. Of course, He will help us in our work, as in all aspects of life. In Romans 8:28 Paul tells us that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ – and that includes things at work. Yet we also have a responsibility to honour God by working hard at whatever we do. Colossians 3:23 says ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters’. Although Paul is specifically addressing slaves in this verse, I believe it is applicable to anyone doing work, paid or unpaid. Nor is it just to receive the ‘reward’ from God promised in verse 24, but also because it is part of our Christian witness to the world around us. What does it tell non-believers about us if followers of Jesus are seen to be dishonest or lazy in their work? (Titus 2:6-10).

So while work may be full of trouble, it is not evil in and of itself. It is a legitimate and worthwhile part of our walk with God, and as such, something to be approached with diligence and love for others.

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