Whether we love our jobs or love to be away from them, it’s safe to assume that humanity’s relationship with working is complicated. As we struggle and toil through the workweek, we can’t help but wonder why work feels the way that it does. The very thing we spend most of our lives doing, we often do as a means to an end. And as much as we tend to compartmentalize our job roles from our personal lives, this was not part of God’s original design for work.
So to fully address our work challenges let’s revisit the Garden of Eden. After God created the heavens and the earth, He placed the first human, Adam, in a garden. This human had the special assignment of taking care of a garden called Eden. This garden would serve as a habitat for humanity as well as its first workplace. (Genesis 2:15) Yet Adam wasn’t made to just work in the garden. He also had a deep connection with God, which allowed him to find joy in his labor. God gave Adam the command to eat of every tree from the garden except for this particular tree: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:17) God then created Eve, the first woman, to help manage the garden with Adam.
In Genesis 3, we are first introduced to a serpent. Unlike the other animals, “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1) This particular serpent was influenced by Satan, the fallen angel who rebelled against God in heaven. Satan can best be described as the thief who “comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10) He wanted to ruin the special relationship that mankind had with God by tempting humanity to disobey God’s command of eating from the forbidden tree. By convincing Eve to question God’s goodness and provision, Eve fell victim to Satan’s temptation with Adam following soon after. What they thought was pleasing to the eye and good for food would immediately bring suffering and chaos to creation.
Mankind experienced separation from God for the very first time. Death was introduced, and the perfect reality God created for us was distorted, including how we go about work. Thorns and thistles now sprout from the same ground we were originally called to cultivate. The earth we were supposed to subdue and have dominion over is now working against us. And this all culminated in being cast out from the only perfect work environment we ever experienced, to a dangerous world that will always harm us. We work to survive another day until we inevitably die.
From this account, we can conclude that our perception of work has also been tainted. The pivotal moment back in the garden not only affected the first humans who disobeyed God but the very creation they were supposed to take care of. Their selfish desires conflicted with God’s sovereignty, so they had to be punished for their disobedience. Work is tedious, dull, and uninspiring. Apathy, selfish ambition, anxiety, and disunity have all become synonymous with labor. We are all fallen and unable to work from a mindset that is fully set on God. Our literal and metaphorical fall from God’s grace explains why achieving anything good through our efforts comes with difficulty.
So how do we deal with the tension between our fallen nature and God’s view of work? While work may not be how it was back in Eden, it doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to make our work experience more bearable. As we head into another workday, here are a few principles that may help achieve balance.
- Be gracious. Paul writes in the book of Philippians to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) We all have to be reminded that we are sinners working with other sinners. Disagreements will arise. We may always not be in the right mood to deal with our work partners. Yet, even in these moments of struggle, we must remain thankful for the opportunity to be where we are at that moment. It will both keep us stable and allow us to benefit those around us.
- Be patient. Patience is not a virtue we all are blessed with. Work hours can feel like an eternity, and we may be pushed to our physical, mental, and emotional limits. So much of our job responsibilities can rob us of time and energy. Even though we aren’t promised immediate rewards for our efforts, our work does matter to God. (1 Corinthians 15:58) As long as we continue to persevere, we will reap what we sow in due time. (Galatians 6:9)
- Be hopeful. We often put so much emphasis on the present that we don’t look to see what is in store for us in the future. Our life is much more than a morning commute and a list of tasks to complete before rush hour. When things get hectic, it can help to not be so focused on what is or what is not happening at that very moment. God, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, can take the various hardships we face each day and rework them into blessings that will sustain us in this fallen world. (Romans 8:28)
As believers, we mustn’t lose sight of God in the uncertainty of our work hours. Even in our brokenness, God loves us enough to not leave us in a state of despair and aimlessness as we work. Yes, we will have to struggle with the work that God has provided us with. But even in our imperfections, we are still called to work with enthusiasm. Our ultimate hope is not set on promotions, paychecks, or positions of power. Rather, it is manifested in a man that was also the same God we sinned against back in the garden and have struggled to reconnect with ever since. Our hope is found in the fulfillment of a prophesied Messiah who would come to save us from both our sin and our work problems: Jesus Christ.