By Riley Manning
“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed… The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”
Genesis 2:8 and 15
It is unlikely that when many Christians think of heaven, they think of having a job there. On the contrary, in fact. Revelation 14:13 says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on … they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”
Or in the words of Mississippi bluesman R.L. Burnside, “I wish I was in heaven, sitting down.”
In the meantime, though, while work, in whatever form it may take, may be burdensome by definition, labor is a crucial facet to a relationship with God.
“God gives Adam a job before he gives him a wife,” said the Rev. Matt Scopel, pastor of Parkway Baptist Church. “In fact, the first picture we get of God is of him working, creating. Through work, we find satisfaction, honor, and pride.”
Pre-fall and post-fall
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Though Adam is given responsibility in the garden, the character of his labor changes at this moment, when God expels the pair from Eden. The Rev. David Mac Kain, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, said it seems like God takes what was first a gift and makes it a punishment.
“But that’s not quite it,” he said. “Before the fall, caring for the garden was a blessed vocation. It wasn’t tedious. Adam’s life was never at stake. After the fall, everything became tainted. Man’s relationship with God, with himself, with his wife, and with his work became corrupt because they were apart from God. That seperate-ness is what made it so difficult.”
The same curse, he said, is what makes people think of their work today as tedious, boring and unpleasant. But still, purpose is defined by work, especially in the Lutheran doctrine of vocation, which says an occupation is meant to serve God by serving others, and extend faith into daily life.
“Man’s struggle to find purpose is the struggle to rediscover God,” he said. “Any job or duty carried out in faith, is pleasing to God. Some, like construction or medicine or technology, advance society and help all people. Others are more menial, even the most menial things, like a mother changing her child’s diapers, are rich to God.”
The Rev. Jeffrey Gladney, pastor of Red Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church said the value of work is one of the few areas where Christianity and the secular culture converge.
“Dedication, avoiding idleness, keeps a person honest and productive, keeps them away from, say, a life of crime. The value of hard work should be a pillar for anyone who craves prosperity, spiritually and otherwise,” he said, pointing to Proverbs 12:11, which says, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.”
For Christians, he said, work puts a person in contact with his fellow man, and provides opportunities to forge relationships with others, and live out faith daily. Gladney said a person can scarcely grow without these relationships and the challenges they present.
“If you’re faithful to your work, other people will take notice and look to you as a leader, even if you maybe don’t get paid more,” Gladney said. “On the other hand, if you’re lazy on the job, people aren’t crazy to think you might be a lazy Christian.”
Day of Rest
By the same token, Scopel and Mac Kain said the purpose of rest is to keep it all in perspective. It’s easy, Mac Kain said, to get so wrapped up that Christians miss the point.
“Moses defines the Sabbath for the purpose of taking off work to gather and worship,” he said. “Obviously, some people have to work on Sundays, preachers for example. For Lutherans, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Sabbath day.
“The Sabbath gives us a chance to look back and see how the Lord has been working,” Scopel said. “It gives us a margin in our life to grow. We go 100 miles per hour during the week with all our gauges in the red zone, and if without a chance to ponder our blessings, we’re going to burn out. God never intended for man to be burnt out.”