What is work?

And the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and guard and keep it.

Gen 2:15

There are three creation principles, namely

  • The responsibility of man for the earth as created by God
  • The covenant of marriage as husband and wife, man and woman
  • The correlation of work and rest

Today, I will flesh out or at least offer some of my thoughts for the third.

After the fall, work became tedious. Before, it was fun and gave meaning. After the fall, we tried to define our identity and self-worth in and through our work. Before, Adam rested in God as a son. After the fall, we neglected rest to get more done, i.e. to be more valued, either by God or the others.

Others might care, but more often just because it makes life easier for them or because they value the same things as we do.

God does not care. He is neither impressed by our self-destruction to please him, nor does he think it is necessary in the first place.

This is the value/self-value side of work, and it is sincerely flawed.

But there is another side to it that is equally out of balance.

We attach work to survival and meeting basic needs. Before the restoration of all things, it was and still is true that we have to work to eat. This world runs on money, and we need money to buy food, and therefore have to work – or depend on others to do so, which is selfish and lazy in most cases.

But now we come into a special time. More and more, classical work is taken over by machines and computers. Less and less work in the classical sense is available for people. Some predict that about 50% of the jobs we have today will be gone within a few decades.

In the last centuries, the church fought all innovation in her attempt to preserve the good old days and protect the people from possible misuse of new things. This was the case with radio, tv, internet, but even before that with cars and electricity. And the list could be continued.

When Christ died, he restored paradise. And we are now walking this out, piece by piece. He has done his part, we now do ours.

Granted, there will probably be no tv or internet in paradise. I do not think that we will need such imperfect and archaic means of communication. But what about work?

I deeply believe that work will be restored to its righteous place. It will be all fun and meaning, and it will not be connected to either worth or provision, or toil, for that matter.

Many see this – in heaven. We have forwarded so many things that God wants to do in our time to the after-life that many churches have totally lost their right of existence in this world and become a waiting room for rapture or death to happen.

When Luther and Zwingli showed the world that the catholic distortion of Greek philosophy and Roman power they called the gospel was not the only way to live, they opened a door and gave people back hope and freedom of choice. Not following through also opened the door for humanism, a highly theoretical construct in the drawers of some scientists and philosophers for 400 years prior, even though not really new as it reflects man’s choices and thoughts from the beginning when given free choice.

Many things of God have been restored since 1515 that have their foundation in the great restorative work of Jesus Christ at the cross.

Many of them had their foreshadows in the world in form of mockery, rip-off and poor copy. Take humanism: it was ready to take over and had been prepared for a while to do so by the enemy. On the other hand, it was instrumental for the reformation. If it were not for the great humanist thinker Erasmus of Rotterdam that put together the first Greek bible that had existed in centuries, neither Luther nor Zwingli would have had the means to write their bibles. Think of Mormonism, Jehovah’s witnesses and dispensationalism that preceded the outpouring of the Spirit together with many non-religious movements to forestall what God had planned. Think of the internet and mobile communication, artificial intelligence as cheap rip-offs of the unity the body of Christ is to grow into.

Just the same with work. The world is eliminating work as we know it. Within the next 5 decades, work will be redefined as arts and social deeds. Life will be cheap or free. Basic needs that is. Maybe money will be obsolete.

This is no horror scenario that contradicts the bible. Easily we find verses that would make us think so:

For while we were yet with you, we gave you this rule and charge: If anyone will not work, neither let him eat. 

2. Thess 3:10

Yes, Paul is talking about toil and struggle, paying for his own food and so on. And yes, as long as the world works this way, we work this way.

Does that mean that it is God’s will for all times? By no means.

Paul talked about slavery and bettered the relationship between slave and master, he talked about women and bettered their situation within the church, setting the church on a trajectory that finally led to the abolition of slavery and the recognition of gifts in women and so much more.

Paul also talked about sexual issues and the right way of living together. And yes, one could argue that here Paul did not set a trajectory to end up in todays situation of anything goes.

In all these themes Pauls set us on a trajectory closer to the situation in paradise. There was no slavery in paradise, no unhealthy hierarchy or even none at all between man and woman, and also a well defined sexual relationship in the confines of marriage between a man and a woman.

And there was work. Work as a basic need of man – to be productive and creative – but not for self-value or worth for society nor for provision.

Let the church be the thought leader in the reformation of work in the whole and work as connected to human value and provision. We know the goal, which is freedom and peace in a relationship with God and a creative outpouring of our most inner self to portray our Godly trait and feature called creativity.

For once, let us not miss the opportunity to impress the world not with our work, but with God’s thoughts.