Beginning in Genesis 3 and continuing through Genesis 4, we know well the events of the fall. Adam and Eve were deceived and rebelled against what God knows to be the best way for them to work and live. This act of disobedience brought about the fall of humanity and of creation, and this fall not only just touches work, but invades it in a deep sense.
God sets curses upon humanity. The ground is cursed – the very stuff from which Adam is made – and so Adam’s identity is torn apart. As he is alienated from the ground, he is alienated from himself. And from the ground will spring up life that wasn’t there before – thorns and thistles that will cause Adam frustration he has not yet experienced, but that he will now experience throughout his work. Work is cursed. Adam must now endure painful “sweat and toil” (Genesis 3:17-19) just to survive. Our work, like the rest of the earth, is under a curse.
In some sense, we work in a world that is not yet redeemed. Even what we find the most enjoyable, productive work is still cursed, and still will have hard parts. Even work that we see as humanly important and meaningful will still include aspects of frustration. Even when we work for the benefit of others, even when our motives are right, the things we produce will be characterized by decay. And the things that we build with our hand for good can and will be used by others for evil and destruction.
Take technology, for instance. The internet is a great thing. There are many wonderful aspects of it – doors are opened to so many possibilities of learning, we can now connect with people we did not have contact with before, but it has still been used for evil and destructive purposes (pornography, for instance). Technology is both a great and horrible thing. Humanity has made wonderful achievements and taken strides toward wonderful progress, but in the process of earth keeping we have also contributed to destruction among ourselves and in our environment.
In work, we face trials, we face tribulations, and sometimes we experience utter failure. Economies turn, hiccups happen in the stock market, and a businessman must lay people off. Wise representatives are voted out of office. Generals lose battles and wars. Writers cannot get published. Sometimes we are simply wearied with our work, we are burned-out, and the satisfaction that was once there is gone, leaving behind just the tedium of the job.
But in the Christian story, work does not stop here. In my next post, I will look at work redeemed, because though we live in the curse’s shadow, Jesus did remove the curse.