Having looked at some of the common motivations for work in part 1, let’s begin to look at what the Bible says about work. We see right from the start that we are created to work. That’s our place in this world.
In Gen 1:28, after God makes humanity, he tells us to ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ From this we can see that part of our work is subduing the world. This is to rule over created things. Here we take the things of this will and bend them to our purposes. It’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image (1:26). We dig metal from the ground, melt it and bend it to good purposes. We beat the air into submission as we fly from place to place, we marshal resources together as we build cities and infrastructure. There is no sense in Gen 1 however that these purposes would be for anything other than the good of humanity and the environment. There is no licence here for ravaging the earth in service of our own greed.
This leads us to a complementary point about work. In the parallel creation account in Genesis 2, we see that in the Garden of Eden humanity is to ‘work it and take care of it’ (2:15). We also see the work of naming the animals in 2:19-20. This is the ordering and re-ordering of the world. Far from ravaging the earth we are to bring order to the land. God does not picture paradise as a wild, untouched ecosystem, but a garden that is worked and taken care of by people. This is the ordering of the earth so as to bring fruit from the ground. The work of ordering is to make the world productive for the support of life – all the kinds of life. This is farming (cropping and pastoral), environmental planning and management, irrigation, water supply, fishing, warehousing, transport, distribution and much more. Now the effects of sin have again had dramatic effect on our ability to order, often with our ignorance or greed leading to widespread environmental damage. But that doesn’t lessen our responsibility to do the work of ordering and re-ordering.
All this work happens before Genesis 3 and is therefore good. Sin affects our work, but not so that it takes away from its inherent goodness. But there are more dimensions to work than just what we do as we interact with the environment in which we live. There is also a social dimension.
Stand by for part 3…