Where do you think the Bible first mentions work? Over the next two weeks we are going to look at the theme of faith and work. What is the relationship of our faith to our work?
Many people think that work first came into existence in Genesis 3, when God says to Adam: “I will produce thorns and thistles for you… By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food…” (Genesis 3:18-19) Yet, work existed before the Fall in Genesis 3.
In Genesis 1:26-28, God makes humankind in his image. No other creature was made in God’s image. Thus, we can deduce that humankind plays a unique and special role in God’s creation. The original Hebrew word we translate image is the same word often used of statues. It carries the meaning to represent something. God uniquely created humankind to represent himself in his creation. He also tells humankind to “rule over” creation, to “subdue” creation, and “be fruitful” in creation. Ultimately it is God who rules over creation, subdues creation through his divine plan of redemption, and makes creation fruitful through his creative acts. Similarly, humankind is to do the same, according to the benevolent will of God. All work – excepting thievery and such – has dignity and goodness, because it flows out of God’s divine mandate to us to rule over, to subdue, and be fruitful.
You might ask, “How does humanity fulfill this lofty responsibility?” In more ways than we normally think. Does God provide for our needs? Yes. But, how does he do it? Typically, he provides through the farmer who tills the earth, the truck driver who transports the farmer’s goods to the market, the market owner who creates a place where those goods can be readily obtained, and through the cashier who transfers the goods from the marker owner’s hands to the consumer’s hands. Does God protect us? Yes. But how does he do so? Typically, through the police force and criminal justice system. These roles are not always fulfilled perfectly in our world, but when they operate in a manner consistent with God’s design, they testify that our work is dignified and good, as an extension of God’s creative and sustaining work.
You might ask, “If work is so good, why do so many people experience work as dismal, distressing, or drudgerous?” We’ll return to that question next week.